PREVIEW | Milano-Sanremo 2023 - Pogacar, van Aert, van der Poel and Alaphilippe headline expected epic battle at Poggio

Preview. It will be on the 18th of March that the peloton will tackle the longest race in professional road cycling: Milano-Sanremo. This, the first monument of the season, is an incredibly important classic where the sprinters, puncheurs and classics specialists gather on the roads of the Ligurian coast in Italy to battle for a very prestigious victory.

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The biggest pro race in the calendar! Albeit having a slightly different route the 294 kilometers (plus neutral start) will heavily weigh on everyone’s legs by the end, which has it’s usual features except for the first climb of the day. The race’s traditional route through the Ligurian sea, includes the Tre Capi. No important attacks will come here, however the teams looking to make damage on the climbs may look to push the pace.

Start Time: 10:10CET.

Finish Time: 17:10CET.

Abbiategrasso - Sanremo, 294.0 kilometers
Abbiategrasso - Sanremo, 294.0 kilometers

Capo Mele – 1,9Km; 4.2%; 51.8Km to go

Capo Cerve – 1.9Km; 2.8%; 46.8Km to go

Capo Berta – 1.8Km; 6.7%; 39Km to go

Quickly the riders will move on to the final and decisive features.

The Cipressa is 5.6Km at an average gradient of 4.1% it doesn’t make for a particularly hard climb, but taking into account when the riders top it they’ll have over 6 hours of racing. It doesn’t usually see attacks, but it is a familiar image to see the teams with puncheurs, climbers and punchy sprinters to come to the front and push the pace, this year the climbers too.

The purest sprinters try to remain hidden, but always well positioned as the descent from Cipressa is very technical, so not only will there be the teams trying to suffocate the sprinters early on as there will be the fight for positioning before the climb and in the summit of it, making for a very nervous and fast section of the race.

Cipressa: 5.6Km; 4%; 21.7Km to go
Cipressa: 5.6Km; 4%; 21.7Km to go

And the final climb is the Poggio di Sanremo, the hardest easy climb in the world! Like everything in this race, it is influenced by the distance, 288Km raced at the summit. It is mostly a climb in false flat roads, starting with a set of bends still very near the sea, but in the last 800 meters the steepest ramp in it comes, a short one but 8% of gradient, and it’s a place regularly chosen by riders to make a final attack.

Poggio di Sanremo: 3.6Km; 3.7%; 5.6Km to go
Poggio di Sanremo: 3.6Km; 3.7%; 5.6Km to go

And just as important as the climb is the descent, it’s quite a technical one which allows some recovering after the climb, and it’s a big threat if anyone gets to the bottom solo, no surprise as in the base of it there are only 2200 meters to the line. This is where Matej Mohoric made his decisive attack in 2022 to victory.

Descent of Poggio di Sanremo
Descent of Poggio di Sanremo

The Via Roma will be the place where the winner will be crowned. The finish is familiar already, a flat straightforward road meaning leadouts and chasing are still very possible which is an advantage for the sprinters, but for that they need good support and a smart sense of positioning. And remember, a sprint after 7 hours of racing is different than after 4/5.

Milano-Sanremo Finale
Milano-Sanremo Finale

The Weather

Map Milano-Sanremo 2023
Map Milano-Sanremo 2023

The forecast points towards northwestern wind. Looking at the map it becomes very clear that this comes as an almost block tailwind throughout much of the race. Higher speeds and more fatigue towards the end are hence expected. In Cipressa there is mostly a crosswind. At the Poggio it is relatively the same, although there are several direction changes. The final kilometers are straight with a tailwind however, favourable to attackers.

The Favourites

Tadej Pogacar - The man of the moment. Everyone has Pogacar on their sight, and everyone expects him to be the attacker at the Poggio. UAE bring in a team full of climbing talent and it appears clear as water that they will do something in the early climbs. Pogacar finished fifth last year but that was after attacking the Poggio many times. Whether those are his best tactics or he will instead save his legs for one decisive attacks will likely be seen.

Wout van Aert - The big powerhouse. Jumbo-Visma have a strong team as usual, with Attila Valter a support rider for van Aert and Christophe Laporte. Van Aert started his season only last week but began showing strong form, and on Milano-Sanremo terrain it will be near impossible to drop him. Late attacks and the frequent unwillingness to collaborate with him may be the biggest issue. Laporte himself is a grand favourite to win this race taking into consideration his sprint - first from peloton at past World Championships and now Kuurne - Bruxelles - Kuurne - and his climbing is also on point as shown at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Bahrain - Victorious - The team of the defending champion. Matej Mohoric is near or at his best form and that's ideal for this race. The rolling hills, technical descents and frequent headwind is close-to-ideal terrain for the Slovenian who won with a solo move last year and will be incredibly dangerous again this year. Any sort of gap given and he's grabbing a second win. Bahrain also have Pello Bilbao, Fred Wright and Jonathan Milan, all outsiders in their own right.

Julian Alaphilippe - Quick-Step have support for the former World Champion, and it's an experienced classics team. A former winner here, the Frenchman knows how to win and how to race here. He is back to good form after around year and a half and will be eager to put it on display. The expected offensive race should be good for his chances.

EF Education-EasyPost - An outsider team, but one with massive talent. Magnus Cort Nielsen has recently won a summit finish at the Volta ao Algarve but also led Paris-Nice due to his sprinting capacity, he will by all means be a legitimate contender. EF can also count on Alberto Bettiol, Neilson Powless and Mikkel Honoré both for aggressive riding or support for the Dane.

Mathieu van der Poel - Van der Poel has not been on his best form, that is safe to say. However I can't go as deep as saying it's bad, in Strade Bianche he was part of it when the race blew up and the work done during Tirreno-Adriatico will surely improve him a bit more. Sanremo is a race that is good for him and he remains a contender, the slight gradients of the Poggio and the climb's gradients make it that it usually requires a one-minute all-out effort, he will be dangerous. Alpecin-Deceuninck also have Jasper Philipsen and Soren Kragh Andersen as dangerous outsiders.

The list of outsiders grows far and wide. Many riders could surprise or be within the top positions, a lot will come down to feeling on the day, positioning and avoiding the crashes. I will name Benoît Cosnefroy, Corbin Strong, Anthony Turgis, Filippo Ganna and Warren Barguil as interesting outsiders that come within teams with no true leader.

What if it comes down to a sprint?

It can't be excluded. Every year the chances of a sprint taking place for the win become slimmer as more puncheurs and climbers come to the race with big goals, and every year it seems like the pace then begins to be pushed earlier and earlier. It's difficult for the fast men to survive nowadays, but on the plus side we also have sprinters who can climb incredibly well, specially when the gradients average only 4%.

You have the likes of Sam Bennett, Fernando Gaviria, Peter Sagan and former winner Arnaud Démare who are more in the pure sprinter field - at this specific time, however come as outsiders. Bryan Coquard, Alex Aranburu and Biniam Girmay come as possibilities but much more reasonable cards to play. Several sprinters and fast finishers have been mentioned above, but there are a few other specific riders who may be quite dangerous.

Mads Pedersen - The Trek rider seems perfectly suited to this race. An endurance monster, a great sprinter and a terrific climber for his weight on these types of efforts. He's got all the cards to take the win, what he needs is good tactics, luck and to be in the right places at the right time. A recent Paris-Nice win suggests he will be in play for Sanremo.

Arnaud De Lie & Caleb Ewan - The Lotto Dstny duo come as big wildcards. Caleb Ewan is just about the most inconsistent sprinter when it comes to the climbs, but he has on two occasions finished second on these roads. The team may focus more on Arnaud De Lie however, who's been showing terrific climbing form early this year, has the sprinting power to defeat even the very best, and despite his young age has proven his endurance capacity in Bretagne.


UAE are bringing the heat, the pace will go up in the Tre Capi, specially Capo Berta which is the steepest climb of the race. Other teams may have intentions too, but it will be important not to go on a start-stop strategy and instead keep the pace high for very long so as to drain the sprinters and shed the peloton. It is absolutely inevitable that the race can only truly explode at the Poggio this year, beforehand the fights for positioning would cancel any attack.

Then at the Poggio all is open. Pogacar, Alaphilippe and van Aert are the riders who have motivations to attack. All can sprint well, and Pogacar is regularly willing to work with others even if they can sprint better. His sprint is also strong enough for him to dream of beating anyone at the finish. I think these and any other climber who doesn't want to take it to a group sprint have to commit 100% to it, because the fast men keep climbing better and better. The presence of riders such as De Lie, Laporte, Pedersen, Girmay... who else may be near the front at the top of the Poggio, means that the pace can't stall.

Letting someone go off the front in the descent is also a death sentence. Last year that was clear, this year with a tailwind towards the line it'd be even easier to pull it off.

Prediction Milano-Sanremo:

*** Tadej Pogacar, Wout van Aert
** Julian Alaphilippe, Matej Mohoric, Mads Pedersen
* Mathieu van der Poel, Arnaud De Lie, Magnus Cort Nielsen, Alex Aranburu

Pick: Wout van Aert

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