Most of Milano-Sanremo is a boring race but the final kilometres never disappoint with a hard tempo expected on the Cipressa and attacks from big stars on the Poggio guaranteed. This is the easiest monument to finish but the hardest to win as there are many possibilities and options and a wide range of riders can win that might not be mentioned in this preview at all.
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With 294 kilometres it is the longest one-day race on the pro calendar. The finishing times vary in the last editions from 6:27h to 7:18h. The intensity before the final 55 kilometres is extremely low before the three Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta begin. Positioning is important in the last hour as the tempo is very high on shallow gradients up and down. Usually on Capo climbs there are some attacks on descents but nothing serious.
The real action starts on the Cipressa (5.6 km, 4.1%), where the sprinters start dropping as the strongest teams pace as hard as possible for their leaders.
In 2022 UAE-Emirates and Davide Formolo completely shattered the peloton on shallow gradients for Tadej Pogačar. Only around 20 riders were left in the first group. Positioning is important and the steepest 6%+ sections are in the first kilometre. The final kilometre is relatively flat.
UAE-Emirates have brought this year Wellens, Trentin, Novak, Covi, Großschartner, Ulissi and Trentin as domestiques for Pogačar. A very powerful squad for short climbs and it is likely that UAE will set as hard a tempo as possible on the Cipressa and Poggio. Mathieu van der Poel in 2021 spent 5171 kilojoules before Cipressa and averaged 230w for 6:15h which usually is lower Zone 2 for pro riders with a weight of around 75kg.
After the descent and a short valley, the real action will start on Poggio (3.6 km, 3.7%). A very short sub-six-minute climb where the race always explodes. Attacks from the top favourites start in the last kilometre on the 8% section right before the crest. Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert always attacked there as it is the perfect spot to get separation.
In the 2022 edition, Søren Kragh Andersen attacked on the steepest part and put many riders under pressure but it was not enough to make a gap as Tadej Pogačar and others were able to follow. Pogačar attacked in the headwind on shallower gradients in the beginning of the climb but this later spot is the place to make a move if you have the legs.
There will be a 7 m/s wind blow during the Poggio ascent. The first part will be in headwind/crosswind while the straight section in the second half will be crosswind/cross tailwind (purple and dark blue sections) which suits attacks. The Strava KOM is shared by Alejandro Valverde and Michal Kwiatkowski who both did the climb in 5:41 min in the 2019 edition with an average speed of 38.3 km/h. Drafting is extremely important at such speeds and the climb is so fast that riders must even break into the sharpest corners. Depending on their weight, riders might average around 6.5 to 7 w/kg on the Poggio. As it is shallow the heavier classics specialists like Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert are perfect for it, as well as of course Tadej Pogačar.
After the Poggio, there is the technical descent after which there are less than three kilometres to the finish. Mohorič in 2022 won thanks to his fearless attack on the Poggio descent and motorbike draft which has influenced the race on multiple occasions. In 2021 Jasper Stuyven attacked at the last part of the descent and no one closed him immediately as he was not the main favourite.
The last time the race was won by a sprint from a peloton was in 2016 by Arnaud Demare. Since then there have been multiple scenarios from a solo winner (Nibali, Mohoric, Stuyven) to two up sprints (Van Aert, Kwiatkowski) and reduced group sprints (Alaphilippe). As the tempo has become higher on both climbs it is harder for pure sprinters like Sam Bennett, Arnaud Demare, Mark Cavendish and Fernando Gaviria to hold on in the peloton. Arnaud De Lie, Mathieu van der Poel, Magnus Cort, Biniam Girmay, Wout van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Mads Pedersen, Jasper Philipsen and Jonathan Milan all are on the start list and can get over short climbs well for fast guys who might win from a bunch. Given the squad lining up for UAE Team Emirates, it is very unlikely that we will see a huge peloton sprint on Saturday, with their puncheurs surely setting a 7 w/kg+ tempo the Cipressa and Poggio.
Pogačar and Van Aert are the main favourites to win, with both their odds at $6.00. Matej Mohorič, the winner of the 2022 edition, was for a long time the biggest favourite according to bookmakers but the Slovenian has dropped to 4th-5th place shared with Mads Pedersen at $12.00. Mohorič can win from a descent attack again and he is strong enough to surprise with an attack in the last kilometres or even has a good shot of winning from a small bunch sprint.
Pogačar is the strongest climber on the start list but even if he gets a gap on Poggio his descending skills might not be enough to hold a gap. Pogačar overall is an excellent rider but descending might be his biggest weakness. It is not terrible but also it is not world-class. Pogačar is a strong sprinter for a GC rider but against Van Aert, Van der Poel or De Lie and Pedersen it will be very hard to win. Pogačar beat Van Aert in GP Montreal with a strong and long sprint but Milano-Sanremo is much than GP Montreal where the Belgian could barely open up his sprint after a succession of hard climbs.
Wout van Aert started his season in Tirreno-Adriatico as a supporting rider for Primož Roglič. The Belgian won Milano-Sanremo in 2020 outsprinting Julian Alaphilippe head to head. It is his only monument victory and he needs more big wins on palmares. Jumbo-Visma has brought Laporte, Tratnik, Valter, Affini, Van Hooydonck and Van Emden. A very strong squad as multiple teammates of Van Aert might survive after the Poggio to pull for Van Aert if does not get a gap himself. Van Aert has lost many sprints after long races and there will be big pressure on him. It will be hard for him to get a gap on Poggio but his descending skills are great and he might try a long-range attack as his sprint after long races is not reliable. Laporte if he is in the group might be a better option as the Frenchman won the bunch sprint in the 2022 World Championships for 2nd place against Van Aert, Matthews, Sagan, Trentin, Kristoff, Garcia Cortina and Hayter.
Van der Poel has not started the season in top condition. 15th in Strade Bianche and no Top 10 in any of the stages in Tirreno-Adriatico is below expectations for a rider of his caliber. But he is Van der Poel and will definitely be on of the favourites for another monument win. His teammates Søren Kragh Andersen and Jasper Philipsen also have a shot at winning. Kragh Andersen looked strong in the last hilly stage of Paris-Nice and is capable of winning like Jasper Stuyven in 2021. The Dane was actually the only rider to bridge across to Stuyven and pulled for him in the last kilometre, but finished 9th himself in the middle of bunch that passed him at the last moment.
Julian Alaphilippe has finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Milano-Sanremo and will want to get his first big victory of the season. Soudal-Quick Step has sent a strong supporting team for the Frenchman. INEOS-Grenadiers will miss Tom Pidcock who will not start because of a concussion he suffered in Tirreno-Adriatico. Formolo, Matthews, Schachmann and Nizzolo for various reasons also will be missing. INEOS has sent Narvaez, Sheffield, Ganna, Kwiatkowski, Heiduk, Rowe and Ben Swift. It is hard to see how Ganna could win this race. Ganna maybe could win like Stuyven in 2021 with a surprise attack after Poggio but it is unlikely. Sheffield is powerful and has the watts to do well, with positioning the big question mark.
Arnaud De Lie has been fabulous in 2023 and has proved he can get over climbs and is very strong for a big sprinter. Caleb Ewan also will start for Lotto-DSTNY but De Lie is possibly a generational one-day classics rider and this would be his first huge win. The Bull only turned 21 on this week but cycling has proved in recent years that the biggest races are often won by young super talents. The wind on Poggio might suit attackers but I am bullish on De Lie to win.
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