Race Details  
Date: Saturday 23 March 1991
Distance: 294km
214 Starters: Including the world's top 20 ranked teams - maximum of 8 riders per team
Weather: Low 50's, northerly wind, rain from start until last hour of race
   
Grey clouds and sheets of rain accompanied the start of the 1991 Milan-San Remo: it was obvious that the winner would be a rider with the courage and aggression to shed the inhibitions so often engendered by wet weather racing. And in the person of Claudio Chiappucci (Carrera), the Italian former domestique whose hard-fought duel with Greg LeMond in the 1990 Tour de France made him an overnight star, and who maintained his form to finish the year ranked number two in the world, these two criteria were admirably met. Chiappucci's 0:45 win, over Denmark's Rolf Sorensen (Ariostea) and 0:57 margin on the peloton led by Belgian sprinter Eric Vanderaerden (Buckler), kicked off the 1991 spring classics to a great start. And while 28-year-old Chiappucci still has plenty of critics, his fine attacking form in La Classicissima inevitably earned him comparison with the great Eddy Merckx in his heyday, and put a hallmark on Chiappucci's seven-year professional career. It marked his first major one-day classic win, and only his sixth-ever-professional victory. It also, incidentally, made him the first World Cup leader of the season. 'I knew that I was in form, but just the same I knew that that alone was not enough to win. People say that I am just a rider who makes a lot of noise but never wins. Today, I have taken my revenge, not only on my second place in the Tour, but on all the series of placings I have had in my career,' said Chiappucci who, despite his low tally of victories, is arguably the most consistent attacker in the peloton.

It was also a win that finally managed to subdue interest in the great helmet controversy which, at this point in the saga, was on ice as the UCI, FICP and riders' representatives had begun the previous day to negotiate towards a solution. These negotiations continued the following week, after riders agreed to wear helmets in this season-opening race, and were finally resolved when the UCI acceded to the peloton's demands and waived the rule for professionals until a helmet that met everybody's requirements was manufactured.

Looking back, it would have been hard to find a stronger rider in the line-up of 214 that departed Milan's regal Piazza del Duomo under a steady downpour of chilling rain that did not abate until the last hour of racing along the Mediterranean coast. Fit from winter cyclo-cross and full of confidence after his revelatory 1990 road season, Chiappucci wanted to start 1991 with a winning ride. He had spent twelve days in January training on the Italian Riviera; in particular, the five critical climbs that pepper the final 60 km of Milan-San Remo and usually determine the outcome of the race. Certainly, Chiappucci was entitled to the hysterical applause of the tifosi and the winner's laurels at San Remo's Corsa Cavallotti, but the muddied and grinning Carrera rider also owed a lot to his Italian team-mate, Guido Bontempi. It was the veteran 1990 Tour de France stage winner who led out the decisive move near the top of the Turchino Pass at 140 km, in pursuit of the two early attackers, Italians Stefano Zanini and William Dazzani (Italbonifica). Chiappucci, tucked into the slipstream of the huge Italian, was one of five riders who joined the chase, the others being Sorensen, Frenchman Charly Mottet (RMO), Spain's Marino Lejarreta (ONCE) and Dutchman Adri Van der Poel (Tulip).

The leaders' 3:30 lead by the start of the Turchino was 1:45 at the summit and, after a dangerous, twisting 12km descent through low cloud, rain and cold, the Carrera-led chase group reeled them in. Soon after, three more riders joined the leading eight - Frenchman Thierry Marie (Castorama) and Holland's Jelle Nijdam (Buckler) and Peter Stevenhagen (PDM). With eleven riders in front, the winning cards seemed to have been dealt: by the first feed station at Savona their lead was 4:00 on the peloton, and had increased to 4:15 by the 201km mark. The race was now almost into Chiappucci's training ground, the final climbs, and as he said later, "the race pattern was ideal for me". Back at the San Remo finish line, Chiappucci's critics began to fidget nervously.
But Chiappucci had planned his race, and every move he made was part of his winning tactic. "After we held back the peloton's chase, I put my plan into action" he said afterwards. "On the Capo Berta I saw the fatigue of Mottet and Nijdam. I accelerated, leaving only me and Sorensen. He suffered on the Cipressa climb (270km), but I didn't want to ride the last 20km alone, so I was happy to give everything on the Poggio, to respect my plan to the letter. Doing that makes me especially proud." The 4km descent into San Remo must have given Chiappucci some of his most nervous moments of the day: an almost unassailable position, vulnerable only to a crash on the slippery roads, and sheer elation at the prospect of his finest win to date, are a pretty volatile combination. But he arrived unscathed at the foot of the Poggio and spun his way to the finish line, urged on by a deafening chorus of cheers from the almost uncontrollable Italian crowds. It brought to a close a performance that was a welcome reminder of the rides that made cycling the institution it is in Italy today.
   
Claudio Chiappucci wins the 1991 Milan-San Remo - Photo © Cor Vos
   
Race Summary
Peloton intact for the first 50km across the flat Lombardy plain  
73km - Two Italian domestiques, Dazzani and Zanini, launch first real attack...
115km - A crash splits the peloton in two...
143km - Just before the Turchino a counterattack is instigated by Bontempi and Chiappucci, followed by Mottet, Lajarreta, Sorenson and Van der Poel. The two leaders have a lead of 1:45 on the wet, twisting descent over the six chasers and 2:15 ahead of the peloton...
185km - At the Savona feed zone, the attacking riders have formed a lead group of eleven, 4:00 ahead of the peloton...
215km - The break has a maximum lead of 4:15. The peloton starts to chase...
236km - Gap reduced to 40 seconds...
243km - Approaching the Capo Mele, Chiappucci accelerates and only Mottet, Nijdam and Sorenson can follow
254km - A crash involving around 50 riders slows pelotons chase...
255km - Chiappucci drops Mottet and Nijdam on the Capo Berta...
270km - Chiappucci and Sorenson lead on the Cipressa followed at 1:25 by Gilles Delion (Helvetia) and Johnny Weltz (ONCE), with the first part of the peloton at 1:40...
277km - A third crash disrupts the chase group with Delion among the victims...
287km - Midway up the Poggio Phil Anderson (Motorola) counterattacks and is within 50 seconds of the two leaders when Chiappucci attacks and drops Sorenson...
288km - At the summit of the Poggio Chiappucci is 27 seconds ahead of Sorenson and more than a minute ahead of the chase group of 52 riders that have absorbed Anderson...
294km - On the finish line Chiappucci wins by 45 seconds.
 
Complete result >>

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