Milan-San Remo 2023 – 5 favourites, 5 outsiders
The first Monument of the season is upon us, with Milan-San Remo signalling the next major appointment of the spring as Classics season ramps up.
The Milan-San Remo route? It's more or less the same as ever, with a near seven-hour ride from just outside Milan culminating in a build-up of pressure and the iconic final climb of the Poggio before descending to a flat finish in the Ligurian coastal town of San Remo.
And how about that start list? The race will bring together the cream of the peloton, from Grand Tour champions to Classics stars and the top sprinters of the day, even if the race is far from the sprinters' Classic it's often billed as.
168 riders from 24 teams will take the start of the 294km race on Saturday morning, with a decent section of that group hoping to taste glory on the Via Roma in the afternoon.
We've looked through all the runners and riders and picked out 10 of the best – five outright favourites and five riders in with a shout but perhaps not the first names to spring to mind. Here's our look at the men who could win Milan-San Remo.
Milan-San Remo – the favourites
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
Milan-San Remo might be known as the sprinters' Classic, but a Grand Tour contender is as big a favourite as anyone to take the win on Via Roma this Saturday. Yes, it's Tadej Pogačar, the man who has swept all before him in a blistering start to his 2023 campaign.
The two-time Tour de France winner has already branched out into the Classics, of course, with Liège-Bastogne-Liège and two editions of Il Lombardia on his palmarès. La Primavera is another kettle of fish, however.
Pogačar has taken part in the race twice before, finishing 12th and fifth in the chase group behind the winner both times. Last year he was among the main animators of the race on the Poggio, attacking three times on the decisive late climb but not managing to get clear over the top.
His compatriot Matej Mohorič did what he couldn't on the way down, however, highlighting a plausible route to victory for Pogačar this time around. He already has nine wins to his name this season and is easily the form pick. It's hard to make the case to bet against Pogačar.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
A more traditional pick for glory in San Remo is Wout van Aert, who fits the 'versatile sprinter' archetype that so often takes the win here, with enough hill-climbing ability to live with the strongest over the Poggio and a fearsome sprint to deploy on the finishing straight.
He's done it before, of course, taking victory two years ago, albeit in a two-up sprint against Julian Alaphilippe after the pair escaped over the day's final climb.
Van Aert doesn't need to get away over the Poggio, though – on his day he can beat any rider in the peloton in a sprint finish. When he has finished among a larger group, he's taken third, sixth, and eighth places, meaning he hasn't finished outside the top 10 yet.
The Belgian is the bookies' favourite for the win, even if he hasn't yet shown top form in 2023. At Tirreno-Adriatico he was largely at the service of Jumbo-Visma teammate and race winner Primož Roglič rather than seeking his own opportunities, though form isn't everything at a race like Milan-San Remo.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious)
Last year, Matej Mohorič soloed to victory with a stunning downhill attack off the Poggio, saying later that he had "destroyed cycling" and that "everyone will start to use dropper posts".
That hasn't quite come to pass, though the dropper post is back this year. The Slovenian has already deployed the device at Strade Bianche, though a mid-race bike change meant he wouldn't use it as he did last March.
Mohorič wasn't among the very top favourites at the race a year ago, but he now has the know-how and the experience to come at the front of the field, even if Milan-San Remo is a race that has rarely welcomed repeat winners in recent history – only Oscar Freire has won more than one of the past 20 editions.
Still, the 28-year-old is in good form even if he has yet to win in 2023. At Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne he was in the decisive break and finished best of the rest behind Jumbo-Visma, while sixth in the chase behind Tom Pidcock at Strade Bianche is nothing to sniff at, either.
Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep)
One of only six men in the peloton who have Milan-San Remo on their palmarès, Julian Alaphilippe returns to the race he won in 2019 after a year away from La Classicissima.
The Frenchman endured a troubled 2022 beset by illness, crashes, and injury, but he already has a win to his name this season, winning the Faun-Ardèche Classic in late February. A second place behind Primož Roglič on stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico suggests he's still in form and so will be one for viewers and riders alike to watch on the Poggio.
As well as his win in San Remo, he has a third to his name from his debut in 2017 and a second to Van Aert in 2020. This is a rider who knows the race, is as strong as anyone up the Poggio, and has the results to prove it.
Like fellow champions Pogačar, Van Aert, and Mohorič, Alaphilippe will be the sole leader of his team this weekend, and like them it's a near certainty that he'll be among the leaders on the Poggio, barring bad luck. Who will prove the strongest there and on the run to the line? We'll have to wait and see.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
Now we come to the final name among our top five favourites, another of the Classics superstars filling out the start list in Abbiategrosso, Mathieu van der Poel.
The Dutchman, leading an Alpecin-Deceuninck team that also includes in-form sprinter Jasper Philipsen, might not have enjoyed the strongest start to his 2023 campaign, but Milan-San Remo was his season debut last year and he finished on the podium.
This time around, the back injury that dogged him through late 2021 and into 2022 is, for the most part, behind him, though he hasn't yet shown top form this spring.
He has Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico already under his belt, though a top result of 13th place on stage 3 of the latter won't strike fear into the hearts of his rivals. But this is still Mathieu van der Poel – a winner of the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and Strade Bianche, among many others – and nobody will be taking him for granted.
Milan-San Remo – the outsiders
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)
Former world champion Mads Pedersen is one of the form men heading into the weekend, the Dane coming off a Paris-Nice which saw him walk away with a stage win, two podium placings, and a spell in the race lead.
Add those results to a time trial win and a hilltop podium at Etoile de Bessèges, his only other race thus far, and the 27-year-old looks one of the men most in form among the crop of versatile sprint types lining up on Saturday.
With wins at the World Championships, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and Gent-Wevelgem on his ever-growing palmarès, Pedersen is no stranger to the big occasion either.
It is somewhat strange, given his attributes, that he has only raced Milan-San Remo once before – last year when he finished sixth – but he is very well-suited to the parcours and strong enough to get over the Poggio. He and 2021 winner Jasper Stuyven constitute a formidable pairing for Trek-Segafredo.
Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny)
Walloon youngster Arnaud De Lie is one of the fastest-rising stars of the peloton and a symbol of hope for Lotto-Dstny after the Belgian squad was relegated from the WorldTour over the winter.
The 20-year-old scored nine wins during his neo-pro campaign last season and has stepped up a level so far in 2023, taking three wins – including an impressive hilltop victory at the Etoile de Bessèges – as well as second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
He's a joint leader at Lotto along with Caleb Ewan, who has twice finished second in San Remo. Though on what will be the longest race day of De Lie's career by around 45km – he raced Gent-Wevelgem and the Bretagne Classic last year – caution, rather than hype is advised.
Eddy Merckx and 1914 winner Ugo Agostoni are the only men to win the mammoth Monument before their 21st birthday, so De Lie would certainly be in rarefied air if he were to pull off a victory.
With two sprinters, Lotto-Dstny are all-in on the same outcome in San Remo. Picking between De Lie and Ewan should come down to what occurs at the top of the Poggio.
Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty)
Heading to Milan-San Remo for the second time after his debut last year, Biniam Girmay holds the hopes of Belgian squad Intermarché-Circus-Wanty on Saturday.
Last March, in the midst of his big breakout spring, he finished 12th in San Remo, 11 seconds off the win though still there or thereabouts. As another of the versatile fastmen who can get over the hills, his is a profile suited to the race.
Form-wise, Girmay enjoyed a strong start to the season with an opening day win at the Volta a Valenciana and two podiums at the Challenge Mallorca. He's been quieter since early February, however, though third and fourth places in Tirreno-Adriatico bunch sprints show he's ready to contend, even if he says he's not yet at 100%.
Still only 22, Girmay looks destined to be a Classics star for some years to come and there'll be plenty of runs at Milan-San Remo ahead. Nevertheless, a Girmay victory would be among the most popular of the major contenders.
Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost)
Versatile Dane Magnus Cort is another rider who fits the 'San Remo archetype', even if an eighth place back in 2018 is the only top-10 finish of his career to date.
He skipped the race last year but returns for a sixth attempt on Saturday leading the EF Education-EasyPost squad. He's in solid form, too, having won two stages – including the hilltop Fóia finish – at the Volta ao Algarve, also taking third on stage 2 of Paris-Nice and wearing the leader's jersey for a day after the team time trial.
Cort has racked up eight Grand Tour stage wins over the years, from sprints and breakaways alike, but hasn't yet captured a major Classic, despite looking like a promising spring rider in his earlier years as a pro.
A win at Milan-San Remo feels like something of a long shot, but Cort is in our 'outsiders' category for a reason.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers)
Ineos Grenadiers leader Filippo Ganna holds not only the hopes of his team following Tom Pidcock's withdrawal due to concussion, but also those of the home fans.
The 26-year-old has risen to near undisputed superiority at the top of the time trial world over the past three years – evidenced once more at the Tirreno-Adriatico opener – but he also harbours Classics ambitions, with Paris-Roubaix the ultimate dream.
Milan-San Remo poses a totally different challenge, however, and one usually reserved for those with fast-twitch bursts of power up the Poggio and in the finishing sprint. It's a tougher challenge to power away, time trial-style, up the 4km, 3.6% finishing climb and hold it on the 5.5km run from the top to the finish.
It has been done, though, with Vincenzo Nibali the most notable winner from long-range in recent years, going solo at 7km out. Back in 2008, Fabian Cancellara showed how to win with an attack on the flat run to the finish, too. It's possible then, but would be an enormous leap from Ganna's career best of 51st at the race.