Icons of cycling: Il Poggio di San Remo

Chris Sidwells admires Milan-San Remo's great leveller

It’s the jewel in the crown of Milan-San Remo, a 3.7km climb that snakes its way up the Via Duca d’Aosta then helter-skelters back down to the streets of San Remo. The famous last climb of the first Monument of the cycling season, the Poggio always sets up a spectacular finish.

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The Poggio was first included in 1960, when a climb starting eight kilometres from the finish was included to break up the big groups that were increasingly deciding Milan-San Remo. It worked, René Privat of France launched a solo attack on the Poggio to win. Raymond Poulidor won alone the following year, as did Emile Daems of Belgium in 1962.

Then in 1964 Poulidor and Tom Simpson dropped the remains of a break on the climb, with Simpson eventually winning on the Via Roma.

And so the story continued. Eddy Merckx made the Poggio his own, with seven Milan-San Remo victories between 1966 and 1976, nearly always pulling something special on the climb. Michele Dancelli won solo in 1970. And in 1974 Felice Gimondi supplied one of the great moments of the Poggio when he climbed it alone wearing the rainbow jersey and riding a Bianchi bike.

Then bigger group finishes started happening again. More climbs were added; La Cipressa in 1982 and La Manie in 2010, beefing up a course that already had the 532-metre Turchino Pass, and the three Capi; the Mele, Cervo and Berta that carry an ancient road, the Via Julia Augusta, along the Mediterranean coast. But those hills just tire the legs, acting as lenses focusing the action on the Poggio.

It starts as a right-hand turn off the Strada Statale 1. The gradient changes, but not by much until the first right bend.

With an average of 3.7 per cent, the Poggio is never really steep, but it’s enough to make a difference if the will and form is there.

The steepest gradient, eight per cent, comes before a green-painted house on the inside of a left-hand bend. Then the last quarter of the Poggio begins. Sprinters start hoping they will be there, climbers attack because they can.

More lefts and rights, past the cylindrical irrigation pools, then the gradient lessens. The summit comes quickly, scruffy farms replaced by smart houses. The last gambit is an attack across the top then a reckless descent. It’s worked in the past, most famously for Sean Kelly in 1992.

More than any other climb, the descent of the Poggio is as important as the ascent. No one can relax: lose concentration and the wheel in front and all the hard work on the climb can be thrown away.

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