With the first Monument of the season set to be raced this Saturday, we thought who better to analyse the race than the 2008 Milan-San Remo winner, four-time podium-finisher and cycling legend, Fabian Cancellara. We discussed the perfect races to lead into Milan-San Remo, what it takes to win ‘La Classicissima’ and his favourites for Saturday.
Q: In the run-up to Milan-San Remo, which of the two stage races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, did you find more beneficial?
‘I always preferred Tirreno as it was an ideal preparation in terms of kilometers and racing. It is closer to the race since you are already in Italy and I just loved that Italian block; Strade Bianche, Tirreno Adriatico and Milan-San Remo.’
Q: What do those five or so days before Milan-San Remo usually look like? Is it all about recovery or is it more important to keep some intensity going?
‘Normally for me, I’m always celebrating my birthday then, which was often a good distraction. But riders will be travelling from Tirreno Adriatico or Paris-Nice to somewhere near Milan. Then, it’s all about recovering from the previous race. You chill out and do some coffee rides. I sometimes did a race in-between or some 3 to 4-hour race efforts. You’re trying not get too tired, but keep the legs moving and open up your system. That is also important.’
Q: Do riders often go on a recon ride in those days before the race, or is that route iconic enough to know by heart?
‘No, not really. There is no specific recon or other efforts on the route; or at least there wasn’t for me.’
Q: It is the Friday before the race, what is on the schedule for the day?
‘The day before, you do a maybe one and a half, maybe two-hour ride, you eat a good lunch and make sure you’re eating a lot of carbs. It is full-on carb-loading time. Your ride will be on the race bike, so you’re checking that everything is right and in order. There is no press to do or anything, just an easy day. It’s a big 300km day coming up, so you just need to relax and keep your energy focused on the race.’
Q: You have basically answered this already, but something so many of us want to know: what does breakfast on race day look like? It must be incredibly hard to fuel for 300km ahead.
‘You have to have the right carbs; we can’t just eat crap. I mean, it needs to fuel a big day. It’s an early bird breakfast. I mean, early bird! You eat rice, you have some eggs, it is basically a regular race-day breakfast, but more of it. In the last years though, this has changed a bit. There is now not as much weight on how much you eat, but more on what you eat.’
Q: A more technical one for you then. If you were racing this Saturday, what bike, wheels and kit would you choose?
‘Easy one, I would use a Timemachine Road. Definitely. For that race, it is all about aerodynamics, to save energy. It all helps saving the powder. For the wheels, I would definitely use a deeper one, not the deepest from DT Swiss, but at least a 60mm. Those wheels and a Timemachine Road would be a perfect combo. Tyre-width and pressure are dependent on the weather. If it is rainy, you might run them a bit lower for grip - but nothing specific for San Remo. The bike just needs to be as smooth as possible. To finish off you need to be in an aero helmet and skin suit. All these small details add up.’
Q: One for the real bike geeks. How big would that big ring be?
‘When I was racing, it was the standard 53 with an 11 on the back. Now, with the latest groupsets you have more options, especially with SRAM. But I was never the guy who played around with my gearing. Even in Roubaix I wouldn’t be as crazy with my gearing as some of the other riders.’
Q: Let’s get into the race. Those first 200km before the riders hit the coast. What’s happening in the peloton, should the favourites be watching out for anything?
‘Those first two thirds of the race, it’s just to save energy. You just need to save the energy. Being smooth, being protected, even try not to pedal too much. The less you pedal, the less you burn. You need to keep warm, making sure you eat the right things at the right time, just keeping an eye on your energy levels - you also shouldn’t eat too much.’
Q: So, the race hits the coast and the pace and pressure ramp up. Should we be watching out for anything in particular? What would you be doing?
‘This is all about positioning. Riders need to be well-positioned here and try not to get stressed. The closer and closer you get to San Remo the more adrenaline and stress starts to build. You’re fighting for position into the Cipressa and then again into the Poggio, so you also need to try to be as calm as possible until it really matters. To be calm doesn’t mean you are not burning energy. You still need to push those pedals to be in the front.’
Q: Let’s get to the real reason why we wanted to chat. Who are your favourites for Saturday?
‘My prediction: Van Aert. It’s Wout Van Aert! Yes, it’s 300km but he has the capacity for multiple possibilities. He can be in the front on the Cipressa and Poggio, but he can also win in a sprint. He has all the cards and doesn’t have much to lose. Remember, he’s already won it before.’
What was just a casual chat about this weekend’s Milan-San Remo, turned into a brilliant and detailed race preview with the previous winner. We thank Fabian for his time as well as his valuable insight and wish him a very Happy Birthday. For what it is worth, our favorite for this weekend’s race is Giacomo Nizzolo, but you still can’t write off Greg Van Avermaet or Oliver Naesen either. Let us know on our social media channels, if this is something you’d like to see more of in the future but for now, all eyes on Saturday!