Studying Sanremo: Five great editions of ‘La Primavera’

Milano-Sanremo has unpredictable, exciting finishes. Here are five favorite editions from the modern era, and what fans can learn from each.

Photo: Cor Vos

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With Milano-Sanremo only days away, we are taking a look back at some of the most memorable editions of “La Primavera,” the season’s first monument. The race has been won in a variety of ways, ranging from bunch sprints to bold solo attacks. What can we learn from the history of this long and unpredictable classic race? Here are five of the most memorable editions.

1992: Sean Kelly’s downhill attack

Sean Kelly won the 1992 Milano-Sanremo with a daring attack on the downhill off the Poggio, bridging the gap to Moreno Argentin. Photo: Cor Vos

The spring of 1992 fell at the tail-end of King Kelly’s reign, but the Irishman had a few more tricks up his sleeve. Kelly, a sprinter more in the mold of Peter Sagan than Marcel Kittel, had only won “La Primavera” once before, in 1986. The two-time Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix winner would go on to retire in 1993. So this was one of his last shots at a monument.


2002: Cipollini’s motorcade

Mario Cipollini won Milano-Sanremo 2002 thanks to a flawless sprint train. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Going into 2002, Mario Cipollini was at his absolute peak of powers, both on and off the bike. Dubbed Il Re Leone, the self-styled Lion King was the top sprinter in the peloton and its most flamboyant. When he finally retired in 2005, he racked up nearly 200 wins, including a record 42 stages at the Giro d’Italia. But as the 2002 season opened, Cipollini had a blot on his palmares: He had never won Milano-Sanremo.


2004: Zabel’s blunder brings Freire glory

Photo: Tim De Waele |

Italian team Fassa Bortolo entered the 2004 version of “La Primavera” with a trump card in its deck: Alessandro Petacchi. Then 30 years old, Petacchi was the fastest man in the peloton that year, having won six stages of the Giro d’Italia, four stages of the Tour de France, and five stages of the Vuelta a España the previous year. Milano-Sanremo was always just a few kilometers too long for “Ale Jet,” and prior to 2004 his top finish had been 17th place. Fassa Bortolo hoped that a team motorcade could tow Petacchi to the finish line, similar to how Aqua & Sapone delivered Mario Cipollini the win two years prior. It didn’t work.


2008: Cancellara outfoxes the hounds

Fabian Cancellara rode to a solo victory in Milano-Sanremo 2008. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Fabian Cancellara started the 2008 season with a bang, beating Bradley Wiggins in the prologue of the Tour of California and then snatching his first of three victories at Strade Bianche two weeks later. Fresh off overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won the stage 5 time trial, “Spartacus” was bristling to take aim at the 99th edition of Milano-Sanremo. It was 3km longer than in 2007, at 298km, following the addition of the Le Mànie climb. The race finished on Lungomare Italo Calvino and not on the traditional Via Roma due to construction and the Easter weekend.


2012: Gerrans sneaks away with Cancellara

Simon Gerrans followed Fabian Cancellara to victory in Milano-Sanremo 2012. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Simon Gerrans had a hot hand in the first few months of 2012, winning the Australian national championships, the Tour Down Under, and finishing second in stage 3 at Paris-Nice behind Alejandro Valverde. The only problem was that, for the fifth year in a row, Milano-Sanremo was set to finish on Corso Cavallotti, more favorable for a bunch sprint. Though Fabian Cancellara won with an unbelievable solo attack on this finish in 2008 and Matthew Goss won from a small group in 2011, this run to the line was generally thought to favor pure sprinters.


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