By Anthony Tan
La Classicissima or Milano-Sanremo, the first major classic on the spring calendar, is considered by many cycling fans - and without doubt, the Italian tifosi - as the most beautiful of the race on the entire cycling calendar. Remember, for Italians, it is about beauty first, and the challenge second - although no-one has ever said racing 294 kilometres is easy...
Far removed from the cobblestones of Flanders or Roubaix, the 2006 race is unchanged from last year, and begins from the traditional starting point in the heart of Milan, on the Via della Chiesa Rossa in Piazza San Ambrogio.
With a seven-plus hour journey in front of them, the peloton take on a mostly flat, sou'-sou'-west journey in the opening 130 kilometres, direction Genova, with the first major obstacle being the Turchino Pass that hits a modest 532 metres' altitude at km 143.
Coming so early on, the Passo del Turchino rarely breaks the bunch, and if so, only momentarily; what one often witnesses is the obligatory early break with their largest advantage at this point. From there, instead of going down into Genova, we make a right-turn to Savona, and begin the bellissima coast-hugging route that has made Milano-Sanremo molta famosa.
Invariably, the fastest part of the race is from km 150 to km 260, where the riders are whisked along at speeds exceeding 60 kilometres an hour, and the three 'Capi' - Mele (km 242,1), Cervo (km 247,4) and Berta (km 254,9) - are hardly even felt. But it's in the final 30 kilometres where the Campione di Sanremo is decided.
Cyclingnews will be covering the 97th Milan - San Remo live, beginning at 9.30am Central European time/ 3:30 EST (USA East)/00:30 PST (USA West)/19:30 AEDT (Australia East).