The first Monument of the 2023 season is back, and, as usual, Milan-Sanremo has attracted a stacked start list of some of the best names in the sport.
Nearing 300km in length, it is the longest race in the men's WorldTour calendar, proving to be a real test of every rider's endurance. Despite its great length, it is the legendary Poggio climb that has often been the deciding factor as to who will be fighting it out for victory. The strongest climbers use the steepest of gradients to launch their attacks. Tadej Pogačar took this tactic last year, but he couldn’t drop Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Søren Kragh Andersen, and Matej Mohorič. It was only on the technical descent into Sanremo that Mohorič took his chance and flew past the other rides, taking the 2022 title.
Most of the riders who will be on the start-line for this year’s Milan-Sanremo have fine tuned their legs ahead of the Italian Classic, riding either Paris-Nice or Tirreno Adriatico, and many go into this race with a victory already under their belts. But Milan-Sanremo is a race that is hard to predict. Some editions have ended in a bunch sprint and others have ended in either a solo attack or group breakaway.
The wide open race adds to the excitement, and while we may predict the big dogs of the WorldTour to take the win, we should never underestimate the quieter riders in the peloton who could swoop in and take the spotlight. Here are our contenders for this year's opening Monument.
The UAE Team Emirates superstar is continuing to prove that he is one of the world's finest cyclists. This season he is already dominating the races with long, solo attacks becoming his signature move. At Jaén Paraiso Interior earlier in the year he attacked with 40km to go and he sailed solo to victory. His first WorldTour appearance was the eight-stage race Paris-Nice, where he once again added another GC title to his palmarès – beating Tour de France rival Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).
Pogačar celebrating a stage victory at Paris-Nice (Image by James Startt)
Last year at Milan-Sanremo, Pogačar was part of the quartet who managed to breakaway from the main peloton on the Poggio, launching several attacks up the climbs in an attempt to thin out the peloton. However, overtaken by Mohorič on the final hurdle, the Slovenian rider came fifth – just missing out on a podium position.
This year, he'll be returning to the race with the hopes of attaining that first place title. As one of the greatest all-rounders in the peloton at the moment, Milan-Sanremo is a race which is within his grasp, but everything needs to fall his way on the day. He already has three Monument titles to his name with two Il Lombardia wins and a Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and is more than capable of securing multiple victories in the the remaining three during his career. The only riders in the sport's history to achieve this monumental achievement of all five is Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, and Roger De Vlaeminck.
Wout van Aert
Wout van Aert has won Milan-Sanremo before in 2020, and has since placed eighth in 2021 and eighth again in 2022. He pulled out of Strade Bianche this year due to illness and opened his 2023 season at Tirreno-Adriatico, using the race as a warm-up for his first real challenge. Finding his form back on the road, stage three of Tirreno-Adriatico was where the Belgian seemed to be coming into his own.
Van Aert riding in Tirreno-Adriatico 2023 (Image by Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
Van Aert is an impressive all-round rider and has the ability to win Milan-Sanremo from a breakaway (as he did in 2020), solo, or in a bunch sprint.
He also boasts support from a much-improved Classics line-up at Jumbo-Visma that began the season exceptionally. The experienced Edoardo Affini, Jan Tratnik, and Nathan Van Hooydonck will keep him protected to the foot of the Poggio, while Christophe Laporte (a potential winner in his own right) will once again be on lead out duties at the peloton speeds up the final climb.
Moreover with such raw strength and endurance, there's little chance Van Aert won't be in the mix at the end of the race.
Arnaud De Lie
There was a lot of hype around Arnaud De Lie last season, and he’s proved his performances are only on an upward trajectory. Taking second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad behind Dylan Van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma) and seventh place the following day at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the Lotto-Dstny rider made a statement in the first Classics of the season.
Despite De Lie being known for his sprinting capabilities, he showed his talents as a rouleur on the Muur Kapelmuur at Omloop, as the third rider in the peloton up the climb behind Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) and Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious). He still then had the legs to sprint for a hard earned second place.
Proving to be a very versatile rider, the parcours of Milan-Sanremo should be no issue for De Lie. He’ll should be able to climb the Cipressa and Poggio in the main bunch, but will need to hope no-one is able to break clear and stay away on the latter so the race culminates in a reduced bunch finish.
De Lie climbing the Muur at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
However, a major question will be whether the Belgian can race the distance. At 294km, Milan-Sanremo will be the longest race in his professional career. To date, the longest race De Lie has raced was Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields last year at 248.8km, where he placed 48th. While the next 40km will be unknown territory for the young rider, he'll be a firm favourite should the race reach a sprint.
Mathieu van der Poel
It has been quiet on the winning front for Mathieu van der Poel since being crowned the 2023 cyclocross world champion and returning to the road. His first WorldTour race was Strade Bianche earlier this month where he placed 15th. Remaining in Italy, the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider raced Tirreno-Adriatico, performing two excellent sprint lead-outs for team-mate Jasper Phillipsen on stages three and seven. While he hasn't been in contention for victories so far, Van der Poel has a history with Milan-Sanremo.
In 2020, he place 15th and in 2021, fifth. Then, last year, Van der Poel came tantalisingly close to the title as he secured third place. He is a rider who can dominate on the short, steep climbs and last year he was one of the few who crested the Poggio first. Behind Mohorič and the late-breaking Anthony Turgis, Van der Poel was able to claim his third place from the subsequent sprint.
Van der Poel placed 15th at this year's Strade Bianche – his first race of the season (Image by Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
In 2022, Milan-Sanremo was the first race of the season for him. This year, his team has gone with a different plan of attack and the Dutchman has had the chance to ease back into the racing rhythm. Van der Poel remains talented enough to contend in almost any race he enters, and while question marks remain over how he'll fare in Milan-Sanremo against a strong start list, he can't be counted out in almost any type of finishing scenario.
Looking defy the odds like he defied gravity last year, Matej Mohorič will be on the start line for this year's Milan-Sanremo aiming for a second consecutive victory. Proving he can win this enduring Monument, he'll be looking to join the honours list with the likes of Sean Kelly and Eddy Merckx for those who have won Milan-Sanremo more than once.
He won the race last year by using a dropper seatpost and showing absolutely no fear on the descent of the Poggio, narrowly skirting the walls that lined the roads on the bends. The Bahrain-Victorious rider has confirmed that he will have the same set-up for this year's edition. However, the riders and teams will now expect this move, so there will no longer be the element of surprise.
Third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and sixth at Strade Bianche show the Slovenian is riding strongly already this season. He'll be able to stick the with the strongest riders over the Poggio, but unless he can perform the same escape he did last year, he won't be a favourite to win from a reduced sprint.
Mohorič celebrating his win at last year's Milan-Sanremo (Image by Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
The Intermarché-Circus-Wanty rider made a name for himself last year, winning Gent-Wevelgem in historic fashion and a Giro d'Italia stage. This year, he is already proving to be on fighting form, winning an early season stage at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana ahead of rising sprint star Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma).
Grimay is a sprinter, who can climb – the perfect combination for Milan-San Remo if there was one. But it is a hard race to win and having confidence in your abilities will be key to swiping the top spot from the other riders. The Eritrean rider is not short on this and believes he is suited to the parcours of Milan-Sanremo and has outwardly targeted this race. Last year, he placed 12th which wasn't bad considering it was his first attempt at the race.
A Monument suited to the sprinters, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) is another rouleur/sprinter who may be in contention. He finished sixth in his first attempt last year, so with some experience on the course, he'll have more knowledge on how to bump up a few spots. He'll be part of a two-pronged attack with team-mate Jasper Stuyven, winner in 2021 from a late solo escape on the Via Roma.
Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) already has two victories this season at the Volta ao Algarve and put in a stellar performance at Paris-Nice last week, coming third on the second stage. The team came second with their effort in the team time trial on stage three which shot Cort to the top of the GC standings and into the yellow jersey. As a punchy sprinter who is ruthless in his attack but also has the ability to get his head down on the climbs could put him in contention for a podium spot.
Alpecin-Deceuninck will have a few riders to pick from and Jasper Phillipsen could be one of the favourites if the pure sprinters make it to the line. He had the perfect lead out from Van der Poel at Tirreno-Adriatico last week, taking two stage wins. It gives his team the luxury of options in such an unpredictable race, but it's unlikely we'll see Van der Poel hanging around for his team-mate if the race breaks up over the final climbs.
It's all been rather quiet for Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) in his new team so far. While he has been at a couple of WorldTour races already including the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, we haven't seen much action from him. The only noise he made was in the opening stage of the UAE Tour where he finished third behind Merlier and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny). Despite being a rider who mainly races stage races in the past few years of his career, he has won this Monument before in 2009, and the Manx rider and his team will be at Milan-Sanremo this year hoping he can recapture some of his old form.
It'll be a tough pick for Lotto Dstny as to which rider they'll be looking for the team to support. Di Lie is a top pick, but Caleb Ewan will also be wanting to prove himself here. Having placed second twice, he has the experience of riding this course and the stamina to keep up with the peloton. Both very talented riders, it'll be interesting to see who Lotto Dstny will back.
Milan-Sanremo 2023 prediction
There are so many talented riders in contention for this year's Milan-Sanremo and with that in mind, we think it'll be hard for any of the riders to make a solo break for it on the Poggio and it'll end in a reduced brunch sprint on the Via Roma. Needing to give their all in that final 200 metres, we think Mathieu van der Poel will have just enough to take the title from the remaining riders, having shown off his powerful final sprint against Van Aert at the 'cross Worlds in February.