Bettini and 20 years of Milano - Sanremo

 A finish line and four arms up to the sky


Words by Miriam |  Styling by Beatrice

17 March 2023 

Paolo Bettini wanted to win the 2003 Milano-Sanremo – twenty years ago – at any cost.


He was so convinced he could do it that the night before, after saying goodnight to his room-mate, he turned on the light, got up and dressed as if he was going to start the race.

When his room-mate asked him what he was doing, instead of letting him rest, he replied:

I want to make sure the jersey fits me for tomorrow when I exult on the finish line in Via Roma.’

The other one laughed but understood, because he was not just a room-mate and team-mate, he was a friend, almost a brother: Luca Paolini.

Over the previous months they had studied and rehearsed the race finish dozens of times, agreeing together on where and how to attack. 

Both lived in Monaco and at least twice a week they went to train there: the Capi, the cipresso climb Cipressa, via Aurelia, the Poggio climb, and again the Capi, the Cipressa climb, via Aurelia, the Poggio climb, like a litany.

The agreed plan was: Paolini would have sprinted up the final ramp of the Poggio, one kilometre from the top, splitting the glbunch and taking Bettini on his wheel.


But the agreed plans, whit ‘the Grillo’ racing, did not last long.


On the day of the race, Bettini decided to anticipate and sprinted up the Cipressa, contrary to what had been decided in the team car, managing to take away a small group of riders who, however, for various reasons did not collaborate in the breakaway. 

Behind them Cipollini’s train was pressing, so Bettini tried an action as courageous as it was desperate. He sprinted, again, this time solo on the flat, trying to resist a chase bunch l at 60 kph up the Poggio.

He was caught up and was absorbed by his thoughts, already considering Sanremo as a lost opportunity. Lost because of his eagerness, his spontaneity, his unpredictability that has always characterised his way of racing.

At that moment he heard a voice telling him::

“Get on my wheel and follow me. You’ll see, everyone else is more cooked than you.”

It was Paolini, of course, who after all those months of training and prep and tactics, would not give up so easily.

And indeed he did not.

He escorted his companion all the way up the Poggio and upon reaching the decisive place he attacked as planned, where everyone knew he would attack, and the peloton shattered. 


He elegantly dealt with the corners along the descent while the Cricket stood on Celestino’s wheel, the only one in the rest of the world to have resisted the sprint.


He pulled again, wind in his face, in the last flat 2,000 metres leading out Bettini in a very long unprecedented sprint.


Celestino tried to respond more out of duty than conviction, and the Grillo sprinted to make the finish in Via Roma his own, the first Monumental Classica of that 2003.


The final photo shows Bettini exploding into a shout, exulting in the pose he had studied the night before.

Just behind, as in a photocopy, two more arms rise in the air, those of someone who has enabled a friend to win, and is therefore almost happier than him.


A photo that is twenty years old these days, but which tells a story of cycling so vividly that everyone remembers it as if it were yesterday.

The story of a finish line, two brothers and four arms up to the sky.