Milan-Sanremo 2024: route, contenders, and prediction

Uncertainty, tension, the importance of the position, the Poggio... The third month of the year is synonymous with La Classicissima and March 16 will be the 115th edition. Rouleur looks at all the details, as well as the favourites to take the victory

The gateway to spring has an undeniable connection with the first cycling Monument of the year. Milan-Sanremo celebrates its 115th edition this Saturday March 16. It's a race that has often been described as the easiest Monument to finish, but the most difficult to win. The uncertainty of the outcome marks its personality, the distinctive feature of which lies in the nearly 300 kilometres that have been maintained since its creation in 1907. It’s a route that links the Padana plain in the north of Italy with the coast of the Ligurian Sea, and in which, once again, the climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio will play a decisive role.

La Classicissima's extensive biography is made up of the most illustrious figures in the sport. Constante Girardengo took 11 podiums – and six victories – between 1917 and 1928. Learco Guerra and Alfredo Binda, and Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, were the protagonists of respective historic rivalries. Eddy Merckx's seven victories (1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1975 and 1976) made him the most successful rider in the race’s history, while Roger de Vlaeminck, Erik Zabel, Óscar Freire are other notable riders with multiple victories.

Milan-Sanremo 2024 favourites:

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)

In 2024 Mathieu van der Poel will be aiming for his second consecutive victory, a feat no one has been able to replicate since Germany's Zabel at the start of the 21st century. It won't be an easy task in a race that brings together the best combination of puncheurs, sprinters and rouleurs in the peloton, but the Dutch rider has proven he is more than capable of achieving such feats. Last year alone he achieved both Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, whilst also placing second in the Tour of Flanders and E3 Saxo Classic. And on top of an already successful year, he earned himself the rainbow stripes, announcing himself as the world champ in Glasgow at the end of the season. 

Milan-Sanremo will be his 2024 road debut after a busy cyclo-cross season where he won 13 out of the 14 races he competed in. It’s a different build up to the race last year, where he had already Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico under his belt before going into the first Monument of the season, whereas the year before where he made his road debut at Milan-Sanremo, he came third. So, we will see whether this extra focus on training instead of racing will fare better for him this time around. 

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Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers)

Filippo Ganna certainly surprised everyone last year when he placed second in 2023, outsprinting both Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar to the line, 15 seconds behind Van der Poel. However, the Italian time trial specialist was clearly disappointed with his performance as he crossed the line shaking his head. This year he’ll be going into the race looking for redemption, knowing he was so close to taking the biggest victory of his professional career. 

Since that day, Ganna has continued to cement his sprinting abilities, with three second-place finishes at last year’s Vuelta a España, evening beating one of the peloton’s fastest men, Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), and by winning the overall at the Tour de Wallonie as well as two stages. The 27-year-old powerhouse has already raced several races this season, but none have produced spectacular results for him – even missing out on a time trial win to Jaun Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) at Tirreno-Adriatico. He proved last year he can be a real contender for the one-day race, but whether he will be on top form will be a question only answered on the day. 

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Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek)

If this race’s parcours was to suit a rider, it would be Lidl-Trek’s Mads Pedersen, who possesses both the abilities to sprint and climb well – two factors needed for winning Milan-Sanremo. However, last year, while having the almost perfect race, the Dane was unable to keep to the wheel of Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pogačar and Ganna on the decisive Poggio climb, placing him sixth in the final standings. He has been vocal about wanting to achieve a Monument title, but that feat eluded him last year. Nevertheless, he still achieved a Tour de France and Giro d’Italia stage win in what was perhaps is best year yet.  

He can also go into this year’s Milan-Sanremo knowing his form is good, having already won the overall and three stages at the Tour de la Provence and two second-place finishes at Paris-Nice. He has already returned to the Poggio this year to recon the climb where it went wrong for him last year with teammate Alex Kirsch, having posted a video on Instagram in early February. If he can keep to the wheels of those in front of him as the riders make their way into Sanremo, he’ll certainly be able to outsprint anyone to the line, he just needs to make sure he can play the Poggio to perfection on the day. 

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Christophe Laporte (Visma-Lease a Bike)

Christophe Laporte has always had strong finishes in the Classics, but not often because he is going for the win himself, but instead, helping the team’s superstars like Wout van Aert go for glory. Although he has proven to be a worthy winner, too, having taken victory at Ghent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen last year, in his role as a domestique, the limelight is not often upon him. But without Van Aert on the start line for this edition of Milan-Sanremo, Laporte may have the opportunity for the team to work for him instead. 

The Frenchman’s highest placing in the race is 13th, and if it comes down to a small group sprint, Laporte could be in contention of taking the victory. He demonstrated his abilities to win from a reduced sprint in last year’s European Championship road race, where he beat teammates Van Aert and Olav Kooij, as well as Arnaud De Lie, and Pedersen, who’ll be a major threat to him in his quest for glory. Visma-Lease a Bike has the winning momentum at the moment, and Laporte could be a rider who could keep the ball rolling. 

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Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious)

Matej Mohorič won the Italian Monument in 2022 with a thrilling descent from the Poggio, which took his rivals by surprise. He ended up winning the race by two seconds after a dropped chain during the final kilometre. He is a demon descender and if he can make a surprise attack like he did in 2022, it’s unlikely many will be able to keep up with him on the descent into Sanremo. However, with so many strong riders, he’ll need to ensure to keep with them all on the climbs, something he couldn’t quite achieve last year where he finished eighth.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) 

Despite being able to win what seems like any race, Milan-Sanremo is one race Tadej Pogačar is yet to win, despite this being his fourth participation. The best result he has had is fourth in last year’s race, but before that, he achieved fifth in 2021 and 13th in 2019. He’s won other Monuments, including Tour of Flanders and Il Lombardia three times, but La Classicissima remains a sticking point for the Slovenian. However, after an incredible season debut at Strade Bianche, where he rode to victory with an 80km solo ride, his form is clearly there and 2024 might just be the year Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates squad nail the tactics to win Milan-Sanremo. Pogačar will be bolstered by a strong team, featuring Brandon McNulty, Tim Wellens and Marc Hirschi and will be hoping to finally add this title to his palmarès. 

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Other contenders 

For Soudal–Quick-Step, Kasper Asgreen will be the team’s best chance at victory. Jasper Philipsen could also be in contention for the race, and while Van der Poel will remain Alpecin-Deceuninck’s A-plan, Philipsen will be among the favourites if the race culminates in a bunch sprint.

We know that Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) is another rider who holds no fear when it comes to descending and could look to pull an attack like Mohorič did in 2022. But like Philipsen, the British rider may be working for another of the team’s riders. At the Tour de la Provence, Axel Zingle (Cofidis) was hot on Pedersen’s wheels, so could be a potential winner if he can stick with the group on the final climbs. However, this will be his first time racing this Monument, so racing this distance will be a first for the Frenchman. 

The 2024 route:

The 115th edition of Milan-Sanremo maintains the characteristics that define the race as one of the longest races on the calendar. However, this year the start of the 288km route returns for the second time to the town of Pavia, south of Milan. This picturesque town, with a rich medieval and renaissance heritage, was the place chosen for the start of the race in 1965 as a result of an experiment by the organisers to find a better selection in the middle of the route. The decision was short-lived, as the following year the capital of Lombardy was once again the starting point.

The classic route for the first 140km is completely flat on the way to the province of Genoa, towards the highest point of the race, the Passo del Turchino. It is this climb of 3km at 5.1%, with ramps above 11% in the final part, that is responsible for changing the predominant scenario during the first half. It is too far from the finish, so it will have no impact on the result, although the descent leads down to the rocky coast of the Ligurian Sea. 

From this point, the traditional winding route through the cliffs of the coast begins, with the last 60km being marked by a succession of hills. This complication in the orography begins with the chain of three "capos" (Italian for cape), with their respective lighthouses outlining the coast: Capo Mele (1.5km at 4.9%), Capo Cervo (1.8km at 2.8%) and Capo Berta (2km at 6%), where the first movements could take place. Even so, it is unlikely that any rider will be able to escape from the control of the peloton beyond the presumed initial breakaway.

Profile sourced from Milan-Sanremo website

That possibility is reserved for the last 25km of the course, where the decisive elements of La Classicissima are concentrated. The first of these is La Cipressa, 5.6km long and with an average gradient of 4.1%. During the approach kilometres there will be a constant fight for the first positions in the peloton, as being well positioned at the start of this climb is fundamental. That’s the precise time when the most explosive riders can have the chance to put the sprinters in trouble, who are usually relegated to the rear on the most demanding ramps, close to 9%.

A few kilometres further on, the famous Poggio di Sanremo awaits, when the tension in crescendo explodes as a result of the decisive attacks. With 10 km to go to the finish line, the riders face this climb described as "the most important six minutes in cycling". The Poggio (3.6 km at 3.7%) has been the scene of the decisive moves in the previous seven editions, the ultimate opportunity to distance the sprinters on the most demanding sections, with a maximum gradient of 8%, and enjoy a minimal advantage to take the victory. 

Sometimes it is not the strongest rider who wins, but the one who has known how to interpret the right moment to create doubts in his rivals. And in that circumstance, taking risks on a fast, extremely technical descent on a narrow road is often the differentiating factor, as Mathieu van der Poel did last year after gaining a slight advantage in the final part of the Poggio.

The final wide streets of Sanremo, on the way to Via Roma, are chaotic, with the riders on the edge after completing more than 280 km of racing and a chase that keeps the tension up to the last metre. Indeed, the uncertainty of the final moments makes La Classicissima a unique and extremely difficult race to predict.

Milan-Sanremo 2024 prediction:

We think it is about time that Tadej Pogačar won this Monument, having missed out on three occasions. And after an 80-kilometre solo win at Strade Bianche earlier this month, we can't see anyone beating his current form.

*Cover image by Getty Images

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