I have been to watch the Milan-Sanremo race a couple of times now. A few years ago Higg and I waited on the Cipressa climb to watch them go by. That was quite an experience, especially as it was the year that Mark Cavendish won.
Last year, shortly after I arrived in Milan I went to watch the riders at the start of the race. On both of these occasions the weather was generally spring-like.
However, talking to my Italian colleagues at work they claimed that for them the Milan-Sanremo bike race was synonymous with bad weather. Even when spring is in the air and the weather is fine, you can be sure that on the day of the Sanremo race the weather turns cold and rainy.
Given my previous experiences I found it hard to believe them, but then again these people are Milanesis of a certain age so they will have witnessed more editions of this race than me.
Last Sunday week, once again, I went to watch the start. It's not far from my flat in Milan so I could just scoot over on my bike and be there within 10 minutes.
My colleagues' predictions were being borne out, as it was quite grim and rainy. In fact, I had made a point of doing my cycle training ride the day before, because I knew that Sunday's weather would be pants!
Despite the weather, many folks had nevertheless come out to watch. But I must say, it all looked rather grim at the Castello Sforsezco. The day was damp and grey, and the riders were all wrapped up, displaying a grave sense of foreboding on their faces.
I managed to snap a photo of one of my cycling heroes, Fabian Cancellara. Unfortunately for me, the result wasn't great - partly because I failed to instantly recognise him when he was all swaddled in a black overjacket and scarf, and partly because he shot by rather quickly in his characteristic Spartacus style!
Anyway, if people were moaning at the start of the race at the prospect of 300km in the rain, they must have been losing the will to live as they passed through Alexandria province in snow and hyperthermic conditions.
I am sure the guys must have been mighty relieved to have been told that they would be going over the Passo Turchino by bus, and they would not have to climb Le Manie either. But then getting back on the bike to resume racing after spending an hour trying to thaw yourself out and warm up must have been a mammoth task. I'm not surprised that grown men were crying on their bikes. When my colleagues had talked about bad weather is this what they really had meant?
Unsurprisingly, almost half the field dropped out of the race. Credit to Gerald Ciolek for a well deserved win. But, as 3rd placed Fabian Cancellara said at the finish line. "I may not have placed first but the fact that I have made it to Sanremo feels like a win. We were all winners today."
I felt very inspired by the guys who battled on through one of the worst conditions in a cycle race. Fair enough, they are paid to do this. But you still need to have a fighting spirit present within you to carry on when you can hardly feel your hands and your feet, or when you are shivering on your bike. I will aspire to have that spirit the next time I have a sporting challenge in apocalyptic conditions!
Back at work, my colleagues admitted that when they said bad weather, they had only meant wind and rain. Not even they could have imagined conditions as terrible as this during 104th edition of the Milan-Sanremo race!
Photos of how the day went including those incredible "spring" conditions have been captured here.
Oh, and spare a thought for the guys who did the race in 1910. Sixty three of them took the start line in pouring rain, which turned to snow. The route was not shortened and there was no bus to take the riders over the Passo del Turchino. The eventual winner, Eugene Christophe got so cold that he had to stop at a hotel to thaw himself out for some time before continuing. Only seven riders managed to complete the race, but unfortunately three of them were disqualified at the finish line! One guy missed the time cut-off. As for the other two, Luigi Ganna had done a few kilometres by car, and Piero Lampaggi was caught getting on a train. Thank Goodness race organisers are kinder these days!