By Alex McGareth
During my travels across Europe, I recently decided to cycle between two Italian cities. It’s one of the harder rides I’ve done, and despite having a good time, I won’t do it again next year. The route in question leads from Milan to Sanremo, snaking down from the centre of northern Italy towards the border with France in the southwest. You may think that this sounds like a significant distance, and it is quite a journey, but the incredible thing about this route is that you’re supposed to complete it in a single day.
The route from Milan to Sanremo is relatively well known in the cycling community, as it is apart of a yearly race. It is one of the five ‘Monuments’ of European cycling. I had already heard of the race beforehand, so since I knew I would be in Italy at the time, I decided to take part. It’s one of the longest day races you can take part in, coming in at 291km, but that’s the challenge of the race. The route is characterised not only by its length but also its numerous inclines. They’re not as numerous as they once were due to concerns over landslides, but you must seriously pump your legs to get up some of those hills.
I’m not much of a competitive person, especially when it comes to excruciatingly long races like this one, so I wasn’t overly concerned with overtaking people or finishing in a good position. Fortunately, for me, the race is mostly open to anyone who wants to take part. All it takes is a visit to the official website. You do have to pay to register, but prices start at €65, which is reasonable for taking part in an event like this. The openness of the event meant that it wasn’t only professional cyclists participating. There were also some average Joes like me as well as other people from all walks of life.
As I said, I wasn’t taking part in this race for the competition. Instead, I took my time and completed the course at a slow and steady pace. But unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be some tortoise-and-hare miracle. I didn’t win the race. In fact, I didn’t come anywhere near winning. Julian Alaphilippe, this year’s winner, completed the course in 6 hours and 40 minutes. It took me somewhere around 8 hours, but to be honest, I wasn’t keeping accurate time.
Instead of telling you specifically about the race, I’d prefer to say more about the journey. Perhaps it might convince you to ride this route yourself, in case the idea of riding alongside professional cyclists seems daunting.
I didn’t spend a significant amount of time in Milan during my travels, but what I experienced during my time there was breathtaking architecture and delicious food. I wasn’t on the right diet for a race, but nevertheless, I woke up early one morning and showed up to the start of the race for 9 a.m.
The first half of the race takes you through the wonderful Italian countryside. The race always takes place in the spring, and this year, there was lovely spring-time weather. The smell of fresh grass and flowers, coupled with the birds and bugs buzzing through the air, made my relaxed approach to the race that more enjoyable.
The route goes through various small towns on its way southeast, which gave me another chance to appreciate the more traditional Italian architecture. I stopped in one of these towns for a much-needed lunch and a refreshing beer.
Then I set off again. Even taking the road to Sanremo slowly, the journey was still exhausting. Pushing up the hills was always a struggle, but of course, you get a brief respite on the other side as you cruise back down again, and from the peaks, you can get an even better view of the surrounding area.
Toward the end of the route, the sights, smells and sounds change as you reach the coastline. There, your eyes can drink in the deep blue of the ocean and smell the salt in the air. When I reached this point, I started to push harder. I was enjoying myself, but after five or so hours, I was eager to rest my legs for the rest of the day indefinitely.
A couple of hours later, I reached Sanremo. It’s a lovely coastal town famous for a casino and cathedral, both of which I visited in my short time there. From there, my journey across Europe continued, but that’s a story for another time.
Photo credits: Claudio Martino / Jose Antonio