Finding Milan Sanremo

Mong Kok, Hong Kong. The most densely populated square kilometre on Earth. The over-population and enveloping buildings of Mong Kok generate a sensory overload. Here you’ll find Flying Ball Bicycles. Like the rest of Mong Kok, Flying Ball spilled onto the street like a dropped shopping bag - it was my local bike shop. Between the ages of 14 and 18 I was their resident loiterer. The patience of the owner, Mr Lee, was astounding.

The shop notice board is where I found my first mountain bike race, that first mountain bike race is where I met my first road racers, those first road racers introduced me to the Tour de France. It was 1992, I spent a year devouring all I could find, in those days it didn’t take long to complete the oeuvre of professional cycling in the English language. I began to follow races, via the planked and chained South China Morning Post in the school library, through VHS tapes that surfaced and did the rounds, or the polythene wrapped Velonews that cost me too much in the cult/novelty newsagent of Mong Kok. I sold my mountain bike and bought a road bike. I wanted to road race.

In hindsight it was the best introduction - so much was left to the imagination, everything seemed so other-worldly yet familiar and old-fashioned: for a Hong Kong kid it was magical. There was an evergreen nostalgia to it all. The concept of Monuments and Grand Tours fascinated me, the foundation of the sport was made up of these eight events, each with its own history and character – they were the sports tectonic plates. I wondered how this treasure of a sport had remained hidden for so long.

Understanding and feeling part of this new world discovery I loitered into Flying Ball one day to see something new in one of the few wall spaces. It was a SIDI promo-poster of Maurizio Fondriest winning the 1993 Milan San Remo. I knew what Milan San Remo was, I’d read everything I could about it, and in those formative years of learning I’d found it embodied so much of the madness inherent in the sport: a 300km race where everything happens in the final 20km.  Fondriest winning the 1993 San Remo was the first video I’d seen of a monument being won. He did what I’d been told by books and commentators was supposed to happen, he’d attacked on the Poggio and left the field in his wake, he had won on his own. And he’d done it with panache, a word I had not known existed until being introduced to cycling. Fondriest was already an idol for me, I taught myself how to ride a road bike like him.

Now looking back, I see how weird it is that four years later I was a professional cyclist in France rooming with Maurizio Fondriest…

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