The four key climbs of Milan-San Remo
It's regarded as the Sprinter's Classic, but there's still some key ascents to navigate
While it’s widely regarded as being the sprinter’s classic, Milan-San Remo is not without its difficulties – the distance, the increased chance of cold, inclement weather and, of course, it’s climbs.
Offering the platforms for attacking, sorting the wheat from the chaff, and forcing the race-defining selection, the current route features four key climbing tests in all.
The Passo del Turchino comes first, followed by the Tre Capi (Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta) and then the famous run-in to San Remo, via the Cipressa and finally the Poggio.
Each will play a key part in Saturday’s race, be it putting the also-rans in trouble or laying the foundations for a first solo winner since Fabian Cancellara in 2008.
Let’s take a closer look at Milan-San Remo’s key climbs…
Passo del Turchino
Originally the sole climbing challenge in the race, the Passo del Turchino is no longer as pivotal but – as the first major climb of the day, and the highest point reached on the route – it will still end the chances of anybody out of form.
The Milan-San Remo route takes the easiest of the three ascents up the pass, from Ovada, which carries an average gradient of just 1.5 per cent, with steepest sections at the top between four and six per cent gradient.
The full climb is 13.2km in length, and you can expect to see most of the peloton still intact as they hit the steady, slightly steeper descent into Voltri.
Average gradient: 1.5 per cent
The Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta are three short hills which mark the start of the final run-in, warming the legs for the Cipressa and Poggio to come.
With 50km remaining, none of the climbs pose a significant challenge to the pro peloton, but with 240km in the legs already and the threat of the Cipressa and Poggio to come, it’s not a place you want to be if your form is not 100 per cent.
The Capo Mele has the steepest average gradient – 5.2 per cent over 2.5km of climbing – while the Capo Berta has a steepest point of eight per cent.
Cannondale DS Fabrizio Guidi once told Strava: “If your legs are bad here, your day is over." And that’s before we get to the two iconic climbs to come.
Capo Mele (2.5km at 5.2 per cent average gradient)
Capo Cervo (2.5km at 4.1 per cent)
Capo Berta (3km at 4.3 per cent)
It’s the run-in to the Cipressa where the pace in the peloton is taken up a notch, with the fight for position absolutely vital ahead of the narrow, twisting climb.
The 6km climb has an average gradient of 3.9 per cent and maximum ramps nearer seven per cent, but with more than 260km of racing in your legs it can feel like a lot more.
Last year’s race saw a big crash on the way down – highlighting the fact it’s not just the climbs you need to be worried about but the descent too – though Arnaud Demare picked himself up, chased back to the peloton and went on to sprint to victory.
Expect plenty of attacks on the climb and over the top – though it’s very rare anything actually sticks, with the efforts instead merely softening up rivals for the Poggio.
Average gradient: 3.9 per cent
The Poggio was first introduced to the race in 1960, and while the climb itself is nothing special by pro cycling standards it has become a pivotal part of Milan-San Remo.
It’s bare statistics – 3.6km at 3.7 per cent average gradient – fail to take into account the 285km already raced and the frantic speed of the bunch as the Via Roma approaches.
Add to that riders desperate to make an attack stick, and to foil the sprinters, and you have an Italian climb almost as mythical as Alpine giants like the Stelvio, just without the hairpins and thigh-numbing gradients.
The last race-winning attack over the Poggio was at the snow-battered, re-routed 2013 edition, where a six-rider move went clear on the descent before Gerald Ciolek snatched a surprise victory.
The proximity of the finish line to the bottom of the climb on the current route throws even more attention to the descent too, with sweeping blind turns to navigate at a rapid pace.
Average gradient: 3.7 per cent