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Milan – Sanremo, 10 Years Ago…


Hard to believe but it’s 10 years ago that we popped over to Italy to cover Milan – Sanremo and with La Primavera this Saturday we thought a little reminiscing would be appropriate.

The day before the race we visited Ciclismo Masi in his workshop under the famous Vigorelli velodrome banking, we spoke to Lance Armstrong at his press conference, ate amazing pizza…

Then on race day-morning we hooked up with chum Matt Conn, watched with interest as Dave Brailsford met Ernesto Colnago for a coffee and a chat about supplying equipment to his fledgling new team, Sky Pro Cycling, chatted to riders including eventual winner Mark Cavendish at the buses, followed and leap-frogged the race to catch them passing at the top of the Poggio, before bumping into Eddy Merckx and being hijacked by a well-dressed rogue taxi driver. Quite the weekend.

Milan - Sanremo
Dave Brailsford (l) and Scott Sunderland (r) tell Ernesto Colnago it’s his turn to get the coffees. Photo©Martin Williamson
Milan - Sanremo
Ed tries to get Scott Sunderland to give us the scoop about Team Sky using Colnago bikes… Photo©Martin Williamson
Milan - Sanremo
We enjoyed catching Dario Cioni at the races for an insiders view of the current news. Photo©Martin Williamson

* * *

This article first ran on 22nd March, 2009

Time to talk about Sanremo, Cavendish, Masi Bikes, and the Vigorelli velodrome.

Sanremo al debutto Cannonball fenomeno” says today’s La Gazzetta Sportivo – that’s its Sunday name.

“Cannonball,” every rider must have a nickname for the continental press, I suppose.

If he keeps up his line of progression it’ll only be a short while before The Mail is calling him, “Cava.”

Milan - Sanremo
Cavendish has a new nickname. Photo©Ed Hood

My buddy, Davie texted me to say that when he was at the East Stirling game on Saturday, his pal, who was listening to the other scores on his radio ear phones, told him that Cav’s win had been reported among the football results – fame indeed!

I didn’t think he could do it; neither did any of my friends or even at the Gazzetta – who gave him one star out of five.

But win it he did, surviving the distance, the climbs, the purges on the coast roads, an amazing jump by Haussler and all the pressure.

He was like a cat on a hot tin roof when I tried to talk to him before the race – you can always tell when a rider is too jumpy to talk to you and you should back off.

When I saw that he’d made the split on the Cipressa, I knew he could win it.

Milan - Sanremo
Cav was right up there over the Poggio. Photo©Ed Hood

When I saw him free wheeling with a kilometre to go, I thought, ‘he’s going to win this!’

Haussler’s jump was sensational, but Cavendish’s counter move defies description; with the best sprinters on the planet, bar none, floundering in his wake and one of the brightest stars of the season so far, a seemingly impossible distance ahead, it was sheer desire and utter desperation to win that took the 23 year-old those slim millimetres ahead.

I know from riders who I speak too regularly, that he has changed, he’s very sure of himself and doesn’t contact folks from the, “old days.”

Having said that, I know too that he’s held in very high regard by his team mates.

Perhaps he’s had to move his whole mental state up a notch – is it that he can’t associate with riders at a lower level, because he feels they’ll ‘neg him out,’ and he has to be a level above them?

But he knows that the very best sprinters must have a team around them who will, ‘take a bullet for them,’ so he must work hard at relationships within Columbia?

Milan - Sanremo
Big George worked his heart out for Cav all day. Photo©Martin Williamson

Martin and I are on the Ryanair flight out of Nice to Dublin, with a change there, before we fly back to Edinburgh.

We flew out on Thursday afternoon; in my infinite wisdom, I thought that there was a team presentation the day before the Primavera – wrong again!

Milan - Sanremo
Lance fixes his gaze on us. Photo©Martin Williamson

There was the, ‘Lance Show’ on Friday though.

People ask; ‘what did he have to say?’ The answer is, nothing.

A lot of words came from his mouth, but the man gives nothing away. His range of emotions – at least to the likes of us – is limited; cool, calm, collected, direct but strangely disconnected.

I asked him about his last Primavera; he “didn’t remember” – if I’d asked Barry Hoban that question he’d have told me what he had for breakfast, the tyres he was on and what pressure was in them.

Martin asked him how would translate any performance tomorrow into cancer awareness, and was told that Lance has been very busy talking to people in Australia and California, but now was the time to focus on his racing…

I wondered if this press conference had been in Texas, would he have been more ‘folksy?’

Somehow, I think so; word is that he’s putting himself back in the public eye with a run for the governor ship of Texas as the next item on his, “to do” list. After that, he’s going to try to tick off the biggest job on the planet – no, not Raith Rovers manager – the President of the Yooniytit States of Murica.

It was good to be there, good to see him up close, look into his eyes.

Milan - Sanremo
This 1954 Moto Guzzi Galleto was in the lobby of our hotel. Beautiful. Photo©Martin Williamson

The hotel we had in Milano was five star, we got it through an agency for 40 euros each per night. The trick was just to sleep there, the fact that the internet was 15 euros per hour made us scared to even ask the price of breakfast.

Friday breakfast was tasty, friendly and cheap in a little caff not far from the Vel Vigorelli; ‘workies’ mix with ‘suits,’ – as it should be.

If you’ve ever wondered why it takes so long to get the roads mended in Italy, I can tell you that the time it took us to eat our paninis and drink our coffee, the guys who were mending the road outside were in for grappa, not once but twice.

Milan - Sanremo
Van Looy’s original components being renovated at Ciclismo Masi. Photo©Martin Williamson

Meeting Alberto Masi in his workshop below the Vigorelli banking was cool, I used to read articles about Masi when I was a boy, and here we were talking to one of the dynasty; with him having all the time in the world for us.

Milan - Sanremo
Fork crown components before. Photo©Martin Williamson
Milan - Sanremo
Here’s the finished product – nice. Photo©Martin Williamson

He showed us lugs, before and after they’d been lovingly filed and explained that carbon is just a fashion. For him, the future is steel, albeit over sized stainless and the same as is used for the tubular landing gear on jet aircraft.

Milan - Sanremo
Martin and Sr. Masi discuss tube sets. Photo©Ed Hood

As we walked away I felt privileged to have met the man.

Milan - Sanremo
The Communal Velodrome indeed.

The Vigorelli is in a hell of a mess, winos sleep in the doors and the American football goalposts on the in field make you want to cry. That said, for a few years there has been talk of building a new 250m track within the current building, complete with a “bubble roof”, to fit in with the current UCI regulations, so we may yet see the velodrome in use again some day.

Milan - Sanremo
The Vigorelli velodrome is pretty neglected these days. Photo©Martin Williamson
Milan - Sanremo
The Vigorelli Velodrome in its heyday – hosting many Hour Records and meetings which featured the biggest stars of the period.
Milan - Sanremo
Massive crowds used to attend racing at the track each week.

We scoped the sights of Milan to go with the article about our trip to Masi and the Vigorelli – via Montenapoleone; Mussoleni’s fascist, imposing Stazione Centrale (where we got charged seven euros a beer!); Milan’s amazing, confused and inspired Gothic Cathedral (aka the Duomo); the beautiful iron, glass and stone Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, built in 1867 with English funding to celebrate the liberation of Milan from Austrian rule; La Scala opera house; and Gio Ponti’s modernist 1958 Pirelli Tower.

It’s an amazing city, but hell to drive in.

Milan - Sanremo
20 minutes to clean and dry a chain. A true labour of love. Photo©Martin Williamson

Race day, we were up at six and away early to meet the other guys, including our chance meet with Eddy Merckx. (Lance who ? Alberto what ?)

Milan - Sanremo
Eddy Merckx and Martin shake on it. Photo©Ed Hood

What’s not up, is our battle to get a bed for the night.

After we edited the pics, we had to walk to Sanremo station, catch the train to Ventimiglia then change trains for Nice.

There were just no cabs to be had; but we did find an amazing ‘hole in the wall’ pizza place – five euros buys you one fine pizza.

Eventually Martin asked the doorman at the legendary Negresco Hotel to get us a cab.

When I saw the cab driver’s patent leather, cream winkle pickers, a sense of profound unease swept over me.

We had a hotel room booked in the Formule 1 in ‘Nice’ – only trouble was that it was five or six kilometres outside of Nice.

Our man got us lost then tried to charge us 60-odd euros for doing so.

We beat him down to 50, which was still a rip off, but at least we had a roof over heads and a bed.

In the morning, we got the bus to the airport from just outside the digs, price? One euro, each.

Anyway, my third Primavera – it won’t be my last, I love it.

Milan - Sanremo
Cav gives us the lowdown. Photo©Martin Williamson

Last words for Cav, though the 50th non-Italian winner of the Primavera in its 100th edition; the first debutant rider to win since Gabriele Colombo in 1996; the youngest rider to win since Eddy Merckx in 1966 and only the second British rider to win in San Remo, the first being Tom Simpson in 1964 – RESPECT.

But, can he win Flanders, like Tom did?

Ed Hood and Martin Williamson
Ed and Martin, our top team! They try to do the local Time Trials, the Grand Tours and the Classics together to get the great stories written, the quality photos taken, the driving done and the wifi wrestled with.

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