Sign up for our newsletter

A day in history: The epic 2013 Milan-San Remo

19 Mar 2021

Cyclist takes a look back at one of the most epic races of the modern era, the 2013 Milan-San Remo

Words: Joe Robinson Photos: Offside

It's feeling a little like Christmas Eve for us cycling fans. Tomorrow is Milan-San Remo, the first Monument of the year, La Classicissima di Primavera. A beautiful race, snaking 299km – with extras – from the avenues of Milan, through the hills of Lombardy before hitting the glorious Ligurian coastline for the race's final battle.

Tomorrow, the sun will be shining, the temperature will be in the mid-teens and a cool, gentle breeze will be pushed off the Mediterranean coast.

A picture-perfect site of Italian beauty for us watching from our sofas in overcast Britain. 

Yet, being Italy in March, Milan-San Remo is not always sunscreen and Genovese pesto pasta on the Via Roma. In fact, some of the foulest weather experienced in professional bike racing has blessed the Primavera.

You don't even have to go back that far, either, to remember an edition where we viewers were glad to be home, on the sofa, and not spinning through the Italian countryside.

The 2013 Milan-San Remo was one of the greatest, coldest and most spectacular races of the modern era.

Not so much for a historic arm-wrestle between riders on the Poggio that culminated in a nail-biting millimetre-close finish but for the biblical weather conditions that battered the peloton along the way. As the peloton drifted from Milan on the morning of 17th March 2013, the rain and the cold through sharp jabs at the peloton. When the rain froze into snow, those jabs became full swinging upper cuts.

As the snowdrops got bigger and heavier, the race organiser began to think on its feet, diverting the peloton away from the Passo del Turchino and La Manie climb in the hope of hoodwinking the weather.

The organiser's hopes were short-lived. With 112km raced, it was decided the race was to be neutralised. The howling snow impaired visibility so much that it was no longer deemed safe to ride.

As for the riders, despite attempts to laugh off the cold and act the tough guy, it was clear that they were in no state to continue racing. 

San Remo was not going to be postponed for a bit of snow, however: 104 years had passed and the only thing that prevented this race from happening was two World Wars, and even then that only stopped three editions. 

It was decided that the race would reconvene further up the road. Riders bundled into the back of team cars and on to buses escaping the bitterly cold conditions. 

Icicles on helmets, snow-capped beards and frozen fingers told of the torment. It was the kind of weather that makes you want to wrap up into a blanket and never go bike riding again.

Of course, for some this weather was an opportunity to prove their toughness. Take Aussie Heinrich Haussler who, while others were looking for any means to escape the cold, rode without any gloves in the sub-zero conditions.

Famously, Castelli made a killing from this day. As the weather worsened, riders from all across the peloton forgot about sponsorship deals and team-issue kit.

Instead, many delved deep into the kitbag for their own personal Castelli Gabbas. With the famous red scorpion scribbled out in black marker, lots of riders that day broke the sponsor's code and the myth of the Gabba was born.

The race eventually restarted further down the road. Some like Tom Boonen protested at the fact riders who had already been dropped were allowed to continue the race within the bunch. Those complaining abandoned the race and to be fair, you have to understand why. Would you be happy if you'd slaved away in the freezing cold only for some guys who gave up long ago to be given the same advantage?

For those who continued, the pace was fast with riders eager to finish the hellish day so they could slide into some warm clothing, devour a big plate of pasta and forget about their horrible day at work.

Sylvain Chavanel and the already-weathered looking Ian Stannard led a charge over the final climb, the Poggio, bringing a select group of riders with them.

Hitting the finishing straight, the sprint launched with German underdog Gerard Ciolek grabbing the biggest victory of his career ahead of a young Peter Sagan and fast-finishing Fabian Cancellara.