Of the five Monumental Classics of cycling, every race has its iconic points, whether they’re climbs, cobbled sectors or famed historical locations.
Paris-Roubaix has the brutal Trouée d’Arenberg, the Tour of Flanders has the punishing Koppenberg, and so on. The first Monument of the season, Milan-San Remo, doesn’t offer up anything quite as fearsome as those challenges, but it does have one icon.
Nestled at the end of a 300km marathon of a ride, the Poggio di San Remo is the decisive spot on the Milan-San Remo route and the most famous part of the longest race on the calendar.
Measuring in at 3.7km and an average gradient of a mere 3.7%, the hill lying to the east of San Remo isn’t exactly a scary prospect, even for a Sunday club run. But on San Remo Saturday, at 37kph after seven hours in the saddle? It’s a very different story.
In a race where, frankly, little can happen for hours on end, the Poggio is the must-watch moment of the day – its importance to the outcome of Milan-San Remo standing above and beyond similar decisive moments of other races.
The Poggio takes on outsized importance given that it is, after all, only a short stretch of road – just 3.7 kilometres in total – in the longest one-day race on the calendar. The battle for position leading up to the right-hand turn off the Corso Giuseppe Mazzini, and the blistering pace set on the way up, is testament to that.
And while the race has been run since 1907, it was only in 1960 that the Poggio was added, thanks to Vincenzo Torriani, the man who put the Muro di Sormano on the Il Lombardia map and who organised the Giro d’Italia from 1946 to the early 1990s. Milan-San Remo literally wouldn’t be the same without the legendary race boss.
At last year’s race, Matej Mohorič demonstrated the importance Torriani’s legacy with a devastating, dropper post-aided solo attack on the way down, having been among the select lead group over the top.
Two years earlier in the pandemic-delayed edition, the all-star pairing of Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe sprinted for the line on the Via Roma after escaping over the top. In 2018, Vincenzo Nibali soloed to the win after attacking midway up the hill, a rare feat in the modern race even if the mass sprint finishes of years gone by now seem consigned to history.
Sure, the more versatile sprinters can make it over the top in a good position – names like Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan, and Peter Sagan are often part of the lead group at the finish. But more often than not the race, and the attacking, is made by the puncheurs.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Strava record for the climb is jointly held by two men who fit neatly into that category of rider – Ineos Grenadiers’ 2017 champion Michał Kwiatkowski, and the now-retired Alejandro Valverde.
They scaled the climb at the end of the 2019 edition in a time of 5:41 (opens in new tab) at an average speed of 38.3kph. The pair ended up third and seventh at the finish after crossing the top in the lead group – it’s vital to be up there because the twisting 3km descent leading back onto the Corso Giuseppe Mazzini and the flat run to the finish line is almost as important as the road uphill.
The race can be, and often is, lost on the way up the climb, but the road down the other side is also vital. From the top, there’s 5.5km of racing between the riders and victory, and with more than half of that taken up by the downhill, it’s no surprise that blitzing the descent is key to success.
Speeds reaching in excess of 70 or even 80kph are common on a road where camera motorbikes often battle to keep up in the chaos. It’s no surprise that Nibali’s winning ride is up there in the Strava rankings; the Italian lies second overall at an average speed of 56.4kph and a time of 3:12. Simon Clarke, who finished 38th in 2021, holds the record (opens in new tab), though, a second quicker. Mohorič’s famous ride, meanwhile, clocked in at 3:30.
The Poggio: it’s just 3,700 metres long with 136 metres of elevation, but relatively speaking it’s perhaps the most influential climb on the calendar.