Wout van Aert marks Van der Poel, Alaphilippe and Bennett as key rivals for Milan-San Remo 2021 

The reigning champion says his Tirreno-Adriatico time trial win gives him confidence for the first Monument of the season

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wout van Aert has marked out Mathieu van der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe and Sam Bennett as key rivals in the 2021 Milan-San Remo this weekend.

The reigning champion in the Italian Monument is confident in his form ahead of the 299k race on Saturday (March 20), having won the final time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico and finishing second overall. 

Van Aert, 26, is once again wary of his great rival Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) after his devastating attacks to win Strade Bianche earlier this month, but the Jumbo-Visma leader also picked out Deceuninck - Quick-Step stars Julian Alaphilippe and Sam Bennett as riders to watch.

On whether Van der Poel may launch an ambitious attack like his unforgettable win on stage five of Tirreno, Van Aert said: “ I think San Remo is a more special race. It’s much longer which makes it much less obvious to break away, for example fifty kilometres before the finish. 

“I don’t have the intention to do that on my own. But we also saw in Strade Bianche that [Van der Poel] can wait until the final. If you’re good enough, it doesn’t really matter that he applies his tactics. 

“If I am good enough, then I have to be able to follow and then I always have my chance. Of course he’s the one that everyone is watching.” 

Van Aert, Van der Poel and Alaphilippe has been the star riders of the 2021 season, with each taking a victory in Tirreno-Adriatico leading up to Milan-San Remo.

Dutchman Van der Poel remains favourite for victory on Saturday, after his remarkable win in Strade Bianche, where he rode away from Alaphilippe with a huge attack on the final climb. 

But Van Aert has also been hugely impressive since his slightly later return to the peloton, winning the opening stage of Tirreno from a bunch sprint, climbing with the best on the mountain finish to Prati di Tivo, and finally beating world and European champions in the final time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. 

Van Aert said: “[Tirreno-Adriatico] is also proof that I am recovering well. There have been a few heavy stages and I have given everything everywhere, so if you’re still capable of such a time trial, that says something about the condition, I think. That certainly gives confidence for San Remo.” 

Milan-San Remo is always a fascinating battle between the climbers on the Poggio and the sprinters aiming to keep the peloton whole when the race reaches the famous Via Roma.

But the race hasn’t finished in a bunch sprint since 2016, when Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) emerged victorious. 

Deceuninck - Quick-Step may maintain the advantage if the race is not decided by the final climb, the Poggio, as their in-form sprinter Sam Bennett will be waiting in the wings for a mass dash to the line. 

Van Aert said: “It is always hard to estimate how a sprinter like Bennett is. In San Remo you always have to count on a large group going to the finish. The way things are now, I expect that there will be some hard racing uphill and that there will be a select group.” 

>>> Five things to look out for at Milan-San Remo 2021 

On other potential rivals, Van Aert said: “I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t know exactly who will start. Apart from Mathieu and Julian I have seen a lot of climbers, or more general classification riders.”

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.