"It builds like an opera, faster and faster, more tense and more tense": 2009 winner Mark Cavendish guides you through Milan-San Remo

Mark Cavendish explained that Milan-San Remo may be ‘easy’ to finish, but that every one of the 300 kilometres in Saturday’s race are complicated.

Milan-San Remo winner in 2009, Cavendish talked to Cycling Weekly prior to the 2015 event to give his opinion on the race’s different phases, from Lombardia to Liguria, and to give you a unique insight into Italy’s classic.

“It’s the easiest race to finish, but the hardest to win,” Cavendish said.

Cavendish shot like a missile from the peloton to catch and pass Heinrich Haussler for his win. In the subsequent years, he has been unable to repeat that success for various reasons.

Followers may look at the final finishing straight, on San Remo’s high street, Via Roma, to review the race, but they should instead cast their eyes on the entire parcours. Only looking at the road south from Milan and along the Ligurian coast, can you start to understand the mystery behind what Italians refer to as La Classica di Primavera.

Turchino Pass, Milan-San Remo

Turchino Pass, Milan-San Remo. Photo: Graham Watson

The 108th edition of the classic will roll as always from Castello Sforzesco on Saturday morning and continue through the flat Po Valley that is famous for producing Italy’s rice. The only major bump on the race profile is the Turchino Pass, which takes the riders into Liguria and leaves another 160 kilometres to the possible sprint finish in San Remo.

“The first sprint comes through the first feed zone before the Turchino. We are not sprinting for position on the climb, but before the tunnel at the top and the descent,” Cavendish explained.

“I remember in 2010, I had a broken spoke at the bottom before the climb, I had to change my front wheel, fight for position and chase on Turchino to get back. In the tunnel, the lights were out and there was a crash, and I stopped dead with riders just hanging out in the tunnel!

Milan-San Remo 2017 profile

“On the descent, it doesn’t really break up, not enough to split the race unless like that day, there’s a massive crash. If you are not in good position, you can lose energy. If you are behind, it’s enough to take your energy that you need for the final.”

The Turchino Pass opens up to the coast and generally better weather and stronger winds. After a rapid descent to Voltri near Genoa, the race turns right and travels west along the coast. The road rises three times over the Tre Capi – Mele, Cervo and Berta – and turns inland off the Via Aurelia twice for the climbs to the hilltop towns Cipressa and Poggio.

The peloton in the 2014 Milan-San Remo

Mark Cavendish likens Milan-San Remo to an opera, getting faster and more intense as it progresses

“It builds like an opera, faster and faster, more tense and more tense,” Cavendish continued. “Finally you hit the Capi, there’s going to be one or two guys that go, then a few more on Berta.”

The short Berta climb leaves only 10 kilometres to the foot of the 5.65-kilometre climb to Cipressa at 239 metres. The Poggio, shorter at 3.7 kilometres, but more intense, comes 10 kilometres later. After the tricky descent past the deteriorating greenhouses, only 2.3 kilometres remain to the finish line.

“There are a lot more attacks on the Cipressa. The big spectacle is on the Poggio, not most of the way up, but at the top, in the last K.”

>>> Milan-San Remo 2017: Preview, latest news and info

The teams with attackers like Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) will try to wear down Cavendish and other fast finishers like Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the seaside, especially on the final two climbs, to avoid a sprint. Cavendish will rely on his Dimension Data team, which has Edvald Boasson Hagen should the race break into pieces.

“There’s no secret to winning San Remo, you just have to get everything right for 300 kilometres,” added Cavendish. “I just break it down into chunks, it’s probably the easiest way to count down the kilometres.”

John Degenkolb wins the 2015 Milan-San Remo

John Degenkolb won the 2015 Milan-San Remo

The forecast for 2017’s race is much better than it was in 2013, when snow forced the organiser to bus the riders around the Turchino. Clear skies and low wind speeds could help keep the race together. If it rains, however, Cavendish said that it will play little part in the race.

“Rain’s irrelevant, it’s the same for everybody who lines up. We all have to deal with it. It’s not like it’s raining only on one person and dry on the others,” said the sprinter from the Isle of Man.

In 2009 Mark Cavendish jumped clear of the bunch to catch Heinrich Haussler on the line.

Mark Cavendish won the 2009 edition of Milan-San Remo

Cavendish explained why he has not yet been able to repeat his 2009 success.

“It’s not easy to win San Remo, that’s the simplest answer,” he said. “There’s a handful of guys probably with a chance of winning, but more than a handful who believe that they have a shot of winning, which is different to any other race.”