The 1978 Milan-San Remo

Date: Saturday 18 March 1978
Starters: 225
Classified: 156
Distance: 288 km
Average speed: 42.396 km/hour
Weather conditions: Fine with warm temperature

Along with the Cathedral, the Castello Sforzesco is Milan's most famous and much beloved monument. It was once again the setting for the start of 'La Primavera'. Giuseppe Saronni (below left) is seen being interviewed before the outset. Saronni was in tremendous form having won his first Tirreno-Adriatico only two days before and had every intention of adding this classic to his palmares. Unfortunately for Saronni Roger De Vlaeminck had other plans. The Belgian was also on peak form having recently won a stage of the Tour of Sardinia and Sassari-Cagliari.

Saronni interview
Start from the Castello Sforzesco

Fifteen minutes into the race a sizeable group of riders, incited by Dirk Baert (Carlos), went clear. Along with Baert it consisted of Van Katwijk and Lubberding (Raleigh), Delcroix (Ijsboerke-Gios), Boifava (Vibor), Bellini (Zonca), Vallet (Miko-Mercier), Bossant (Sanson), Martin (C&A), Scalbazzi (SCIC) and Favero (Intercontinentale).

Eleven men go clear

The break gained a maximum lead of some ten minutes before they began to be steadily overhauled. As the Capo Mele approached Didi Thurau (Ijsboerke-Gios) took off from the peloton in a lone attempt to catch the break. It was however beginning to split after Jacques Martin went well clear at Pietro-Ligure 215 km into the race. Thurau went scorching through the tattered remains of the break but it did little but wear him out. He was to join Martin at he summit of the Capo Berta (below) with the main bunch soon to catch the lot of them.

Jacques Martin (far right) is caught by Thurau and Lubberding at the top of the Capo Berta

With everyone together it was now the turn of Giuseppe Saronni to take a few blasts off the front intending, or so it seemed, to have a go at a  long solo. The field wouldn't let him and after several abortive attempts Saronni stopped attacking but still kept his place at the front of affairs. Then little known Italian Alessio Antonini (Selle Royal-Inoxpran) and this was the first crucial point in the race.

Antonini attack

First Saronni got up to him, then De Vlaeminck and finally Peugeot's Yves Hezard. It was Saronni, a mere 20 years old, who put every effort into keeping the four men clear of the field and at the same time beating or wearing down the crafty campaigner from Eekloo. The bunch were a mere 200 metres behind with the SCIC team doing their best to block the front, but it was tough to block on a bunch doing 30 miles an hour. The four leaders however were doing the same 30 miles an hour and it was just as tough to pull them back.

On the Poggio with Saronni doing all the work at the front

It was little short of a miracle that they stayed away over the Poggio and down into San Remo, but stay away they did. Yves Hezard's tire rolled off on the descent but he had the skill and speed to squeeze it back on in time.

Onto the magnificent run-in of the via Roma there could only be one winner. With Hezard dropped due to his mechanical problem it was to be a three man sprint. Saronni lead from De Vlaeminck and Antonini. With just under 300 metres remaining Antonini jumped. De Vlaeminck responded instantly and both went past the SCIC rider and for a few metres they battled side by side. Antonini however was no match and he gave up 150 metres from the line leaving the Sanson rider to take his second victory in the Milan-San Remo.

Roger De Vlaeminck wins the 1978 Milan-San Remo from Saronni and Antonini

Francesco Moser and Rik Van Linden sprint to the line for 5th and 6th places

Later Saronni accused De Vlaeminck of not working but that was not true, especially on the climb of the Poggio....the key to Milan-San Remo. De Vlaeminck justified his conduct claiming that "every race has to be won and it is up to every rider to win as best he can". However the Italian fans were far from happy with De Vlaeminck feeling that he had stolen the race from their man.