“What country do you reckon that guy is from?” I asked my wife, with fifty kilometres to go.
She glanced up at the TV screen.
Mirco Maestri of Bardiani-CSF was tapping out a lively tempo. His team jersey, a bold combo of radioactive fluro orange and lime green, was glowing.
“Italy,” she replied, without missing a beat.
In the UK we admire toned down and classic. The odd stripe here and there, maybe a swish of brightness. Most design led cycling kit has a hint of Rapha in there somewhere.
In Italy they embrace every shade of the palette and swathe every inch in sponsorship. Every swatch of fabric is infused with the spirit of Mario Cipollini – Bardiani ride Cipo’s bikes, so they could hardly be allowed to slip under the radar.
Contractually obliged to stand out from the crowd, I imagine.
The first couple of hundred kilometres of Milan-San Remo is pre-amble. They head for the Ligurian coast. The vast distance is a softening up process.
As they hit the weak spring sunshine the ceremonial removing of clothes begins. All legal, of course. An appropriate amount of flesh is revealed. The riders remove casquettes, gilets and warmers. They stretch their limbs like lizards powering up in the morning sun.
It’s a slow burner.
An awful long time of nothing very much happening.
Before little bits and pieces start happening (a fight for position here, Marcel Kittel getting dropped on a climb there), and then the speed increases, stress and agitation ripples through the peloton, and it explodes.
In the final thirty kilometres come the Cipressa and the Poggio, the two climbs where attacks might be launched. Kwiatkowski puts his Sky crew to work. Frenchman Demare has a posse around him. Some sprinters – Cavendish, Ewan, Greipel – are hanging in and hoping for a sprint.
(Although Cav did stop hanging in, very surprisingly, and quite suddenly, after disagreeing with a bollard.)
Something, at some point, is going to happen. Something amplified and heightened by the hours of nothing that preceded it. The tighter the race gets wound, the more visceral the final act will be.Embed from Getty Images
And on the Poggio, Vincenzo Nibali lets fly. The cable has snapped.
A whiplash down the road and he’s away on the climb, and rattling down the descent, with a gallop of climbers and sprinters in pursuit. A lone breakaway, or a bunch sprint – all options are now on the table.
The seconds tick.
The fans at the roadside bay for an Italian win. They will it. Either way the most exciting thing in the world is about to happen: Nibali will win or the sprint will catch him, and it will happen in the last twenty metres of three-hundred kilometres
A stampede around the final bend.
Caleb Ewan has launched. Demare is there. Sagan, Kristoff, Matthews.
“A triumph from another era” said La Gazzetta dello Sport. Back to the days of the buccaneering breakaway win.
Black and white does seem appropriate.