|The most terrible conditions.|
The 4th edition of Milan-San Remo was to become legendary due to the severe atmospheric conditions under which it was carried out. The race left Milan in the rain with weather conditions becoming much worse with a storm on the Turchino Pass leaving 20 cm of snow for the riders to pass through. The cold was intense. Sixty-five participants started - only four would finish, led home by the French man Eugenio Christophe (right). It would take him almost twelve and a half-hours to cover the 289.3 km in an average speed of 23.330 km/hour. Only the 1917 San Remo had a slower average. Christophe won with the greatest margin over the second placed rider in the history of the race. The Italian Giovanni Cocchi was over one hour behind.
|It is best left to Christophe to tell his own story to get some idea of what it was really like that day. Photographs copyright of La Gazzetta dello Sport.|
|"It was the second time I'd been to Milan and I only knew a few words of the language. With Gustave Garrigou, I went to look at the course as far as Pavia, which was 30 kilometres. That was all I knew of the 290 kilometres of the race. I took Garrigou's advice, because he'd ridden before, in deciding which gears to use on the bikes both before and after the Turchino climb. "The weather had been good at the start of the week but it turned really bad and Alphonse Baugé [the manager] told us that we'd be going over the Turchino even though the road was bad and covered with snow. Everybody was talking about it and we began wondering if the race would be postponed. "But on Sunday April 3, 63 riders of the 94 who'd entered set off in biting cold. The roads were muddy and frozen and we had to bounce along in the ruts, riding on the verges between the posts that were spaced every 20 metres as far as Pavia. We rode the first 32km in 56 minutes, the 53km from Milan to Voghera in an hour and 50 minutes. There was attack after attack.|
|"We got to the notorious Col de
Turchino. The clouds were low, the countryside was unattractive and we
started to feel the cold more and more. The half-melted snow made the
race very hard and we were struggling too with a glacial wind. I
dropped my friend Ernest Paul to get up to Ganna, who I could see on
the hairpins. I got up and past him without too much trouble because he
didn't seem to be standing the cold any better than I was.
"Not far from the summit I had to get off my bike because I started feeling bad. My fingers were rigid, my feet numb, my legs stiff and I was shaking continuously. I began walking and running to get my circulation back, looking at the countryside. It was bleak and the wind made a low moaning noise. I'd have felt scared if I hadn't been used to bad weather in cyclo-crosses.
"Well, I got back on my bike and I got to the top of the col. A soigneur told me I was six minutes down on the leader. I found van Hauwaert at the exit of the tunnel with his bike in his hand and a cloak on his back. He told me he was packing it in. I was beyond feeling happy about it and I just got on with going down through the snow that lay on the road on that side of the mountain.
Riders struggle with the conditions
The organisers car becomes stuck in the snow
|"The view was totally different
now. The snow made the countryside beautiful. The sky was clear. But
now it was my turn to have trouble. It was hard to keep going. In
places there were 20 centimetres of snow. Each time I was obliged to
get off and push. Then I had to stop with stomach cramp. I collapsed on
to a rock at the side the road. I was freezing. All I could do was move
my head a little from left to right and right to left.
"I saw a house not far away but I couldn't get there. I didn't realise just what danger I was in. I just wanted to get to San Remo first... I thought too of my contract with the bike factory. I'd get double my wages if I won, as well as primes, and there'd be my 300 francs for first place. Happily in my misfortune a man chanced to pass by.
|"He stopped and
spoke to me in Italian, naturally. I nodded towards the house and said
casa [house] and he understood. He took me by the arm and led me to the
house, which was a tiny inn. The landlord undressed me and wrapped me
in a blanket. I murmured 'aqua caldo' [hot water] and pointed at the
bottles of rum.
"I did some physical exercises and I started to get some feeling back in my body. I wanted to go on but the patron wouldn't hear of it and pointed at the snow still falling outside. And then first van Hauwaert and then Ernest Paul came in. They were so frozen that they put their hands into the flames. Ernest Paul had lost a shoe without noticing.
"I was there for about 25 minutes. I saw four racers go by, or at least four piles of mud. I decided to press on. Ernest Paul said, 'You're crazy.' And the innkeeper didn't want to let me go. I had to trick him by saying I could meet someone who would get me to San Remo by train. I set off and caught Cocchi and Pavesi and I got to the control just behind Ganna, who was setting off as I stopped. I set off again after Baugé told me I could win. I passed Ganna at the edge of the town. I caught Albini a few kilometres later.
"At the control at Savona everybody was astonished to see me alone. The crowd didn't know me. I didn't stop long and took Trousellier's spare bike, because I knew he and Garrigou had abandoned before Ovada. I was sure of my victory and with only 100km to go I felt a new strength. The idea of crossing the line alone brought back all my energy. I got to San Remo well behind the scheduled time. It was six pm when I finally got there."
At times Christophe thought that he must have gone off course due to the deserted roads in front of him.
Luigi Ganna arrived in second place but was disqualified for taking a ride in a vehicle.
|It took a month in
hospital for Christophe to recover from frostbite to his hands and the
damage the cold had done to his body. It took another two years to get
back to full health.
Right. An extract from the Lo
Sport Illustrato special supplement published in March 1959 to
celebrate the first fifty years of Milano Sanremo.