Thursday, April 9, 2015

Milano-Sanremo

The longest ride I have ever done was 278km. It was a number of years ago when a couple of friends and I decided it would be a good idea to ride from Brisbane up to the Sunshine Coast, watch a rowing race and then ride back the long way with some guys from the race over some climbs. It took all day and we stopped several times for food and drinks. Afterwards, I was destroyed for almost 5 days. The hot temperatures took their toll on us and since then, I have never attempted anything like it. Until….

A few weeks ago, I discovered that I would be racing the Milano-Sanremo. For those that don’t know what it is, it is the World’s longest one day race, covering 298km in Italy, from Milan to the coast and south to Sanremo. The first edition was run in 1907 and now ‘La Primavera’ as it is known in Italian, is part of the World Tour race calendar. It is the first Spring Classic and one of ‘The Five Monuments of Cycling’, which are generally considered to be the oldest and most-prestigious one-day events on the calendar. So in other words, the race is a pretty big deal for us!
I have watched several editions of the Milano-Sanremo on television. With very few climbs, it is the sheer distance of the race that makes it hard and it is considered to be a sprinters’ race. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever consider that I could one day line up on the start line, so it was a real honor to race.
For Team Novo Nordisk, being invited to race Milano-Sanremo is also a huge opportunity. It is our first World Tour race and although winning is a very difficult task, we can still put in a good performance to show that we deserve our position in the peloton. As a result, going in the early break away is not only ideal, it is MANDATORY. Riders in the early break are given TV time and the commentators draw every one’s attention to the team. So for us, it was our number one goal.
During the 8km of neutral before the proper start of the race, we all pushed our way to the front. I have a feeling some of the other teams were a little upset that we were all there but well, too bad. Because the race is so long, the bigger teams generally don’t mind letting the break go early as they have plenty of time to reel it in. Consequently, it could be the first attempt that stays away so it’s important to be there, ready to go!

This year, it took 3 attempts for the break to stick. I was in the 2nd attempt and to be honest, I was kind of relieved that it didn’t stay away because it would be a tough day in the saddle. Fortunately, our Italian rider, Andrea Peron made the break after just 12km of racing and he was happy to feature in his home country. Unfortunately, this was the same time that the rain started coming down and the temperature dropped.

As the race is a World Tour event, we are able to use race radios. However, World Tour events also mean than non-world tour team cars must go to the back of the convoy. This, combined with the weather, meant that our team car could not hear our call for rain jackets. I was freezing. I could barely feel my hands so I wasn’t even sure if I was pushing the radio button at all but I had to make my way through the convoy to the back of the cars to get a jacket. The cold and rain made it an epic race, but also made for a long and uncomfortable day in the office.
With a race that lasts for 7hrs, people are bound to need to go to the bathroom at some point. Large groups pull over for a nature break and you would expect the front of the race to slow down but it doesn’t. Instead, it seems to go faster. After stopping, you would have to ride through the cars for what seemed like an eternity just to get back to the bunch as they hurtled along the coast at +50kph.

After almost 5.5hrs and 230km, we started to hit the small climbs along the coast towards the final climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio. Each one felt harder and harder as the legs started to fade. Finally, after 250km, my legs had enough and I lost contact with the bunch. As the cars made their way past me, it suddenly dawned on me… We were in a point to point race and we had already passed the final feed zone, so I still had to ride to the finish!
Luckily, I dropped with a couple of other riders and they knew of a shortcut along a bike path that took out the final climbs. Despite this, I still managed to clock up 290km when I got to the finish in Sanremo, setting a new record for my longest ride, albeit a little bit faster than any other with an average speed of 40.6kph, even with the trundle to the finish.

The race was eventually won by John Degenkolb in a sprint. The finish almost looks like slow-motion as riders give everything they have left in the tank after such a long race. Impressively, several riders went directly to the airport after the race to catch a flight for the start of Volta Catalunya the next day. Even more impressive, is the fact that the winner of Stage 1 in Volta Catalunya had raced the 300km of Milano-Sanremo the day before and place 22nd!! Kudos.

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