|Milano-Sanremo – 1907 – race report , photos, reactions…
Botticelli winner of the 1487 Primavera – Courtesy Wikimedia
Milano-Sanremo, is a race underestimated outside its Italian base. Indeed, even the subtitle for the race “Classicissima di Primavera”, is variously translated by English speaking commentators. For some it means the first classic, for others it is named after a flower of the region, it should be translated as the Spring Classic, since it is always held on the weekend closest to the first day of Spring.
The “Classicissima di Primavera”, is hard to define because of its sheer beauty.
With a catholic regard to human suffering it is the only classic race to actually increase in length and severity over the years.
It took last years winner Pozzato 6 hours 29 minutes and 40 seconds to win over the 294 kilometre course.
However it took the first winner of the race , 100 years ago, Lucien Georges Mazan, (who is better known by his pseudonym: Lucien Petit-Breton) 11 hours 4 minutes and 15 seconds to win over 288 kilometres.
The first edition
1907 - With the Italian economy booming the Unione Sportiva Sanremese, who were disappointed with the returns on an automobile race approached Eugenio Costamagna of the Gazzetta dello Sport with the idea that a cycle race should finish in their city of Sanremo.
Eugenio Costamagna, saw things on a grand scale and decided that a race between the hub of the Italian Cycling Industry, Milano, and the jewel of the Italian Tourist industry SanRemo would catch the publics imagination. .
Having decided on a route, which was to include the climb of the Passo di Turchino, which would not be easy to cross in the early spring weather, Costamagna invited several top professional riders to test his new race; a tactic he had used successfully a couple of years before for the Giro di Lombardia. The riders approved of the course. Even these giants of the road may have become daunted when they read the race rules, no changing of bicycles, no supplies or accessories and no team support from cars or the roadside. It was to be a race for the hardest of men.
Venus and Mars – Courtesy Wikimedia
The first Race
62 riders formally subscribed to ride the first edition, and Eugenio Costamagna ensured that his race had an International flavour. Italian stars (Giovanni Gerbi, Cuniolo, Ganna, Galetti, Rossignoli) would compete against top French riders ; the current world hour record holder Lucien Petit Breton would ride for the Bianchi team; young sensation, Gustave Garrigou (who later that year would take two stage wins in the Tour de France and win the Giro di Lombardia ) and top ten finisher in the 1905 Tour de France, Philippe Pautrat made the trip to Milano.
However when the riders assembled at the Tavern Conca Fallata in Milano on the 14 April 1907 in the very early hours of the morning the conditions were not good. It was cold wet and windy, enough to discourage nearly half of the field and when the race started at 4.00am only 33 riders set off into the darkness to ride the 288 kilometres that will take them via Cavallotti, to Sanremo.
The conditions were such that the top riders sooned formed a leading group, but as the race reached Pozzolo, after about 90 kilometres, the “diavolo rosso” (the red devil) , Giovanni Gerbi attacked through driving sleet as the race started the ascent of the Turchino.
By the top of the climb Gerbi had three minutes advantage over the chasers, but two men from the decimated peloton were pressing on. At Savona, Garrigou finally bridged the gap, but then Gerbi played the tactical card and allowed chasing Bianchi team mate Petit Breton to catch the leading duo on the Capo Berta.
These three men had formed the break of the day and the two Bianchi riders (Gerbi and Petit Breton) clearly had a numerical advantage over Garrigou.
As the three arrived at the outskirts of San Remo, Gerbi impeded Garrigou as his team mate Petit Breton attacked.
Lucien Petit Breton soloed to glory a minute ahead of his two rivals. Gerbi finished second making it a Bianchi one two. Garrigou complained to the jury about the actions of Gerbi and was awarded second place.
So a worthy victor, controversy and passion.
We will no doubt see the same in the 2007 edition of the race.
What happened next
Lucien Petit Breton – Courtesy Wikimedia
Lucien Petit Breton sadly became one of the lost generation. He joined the French Army in the Great war of 1914/18 and was killed at the front near Troyes. Legend says he was hit by a car while delivering a message on his bicycle.
Bianchi at war – Courtesy Bianchi
In 1915, Bianchi produced a bike for the Army, equipped with wide-section tyres, folding frame and suspensions on both wheels. This original bicycle was consigned to the Royal Light Infantry Corp, the “Bersaglieri”, who used it as an off-road vehicle from the Alps to the African deserts: it was the first mountain bike, the ancestor of all the modern versions.
They have continued as a successful bike manufacturer to the present day, although their famed Celeste frames will not grace the 2007 edition of the race.
Giovanni Gerbi– Courtesy Wikimedia
Giovanni Gerbi The red devil of Ast continued cycling until 1933, he then ran a bicycle shop in his home town of Ast. He died in 1955.
Luigi Ganna would go on to win the Giro d'Italia in 1909.
Nicknamed “ El Luisin” he did win Milano-Sanremo in 1909 and retired from racing in 1915 to start building bicycles. Fiorenzo Magni would later ride a Ganna bicycle.
man with a medal – Courtesy Wikimedia