All in for the Poggio: Nine riders to watch at Milan-San Remo 2023

Analysing the top tier of contenders for La Classicissima this weekend, plus one or two surprise packages

Matej Mohoric
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2023 edition of Milan-San Remo takes place this weekend, and as always, the race is wide open with a variety of different riders taking part who are more than capable of winning.

As one of cycling’s five Monuments, the prestige of taking the honours on the Via Roma is huge. Speaking to CyclingWeekly, last year’s winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) even went as far as saying that winning the Monument was bigger than his two Tour de France stage wins.

Due to the technicalities of the final third of the course, Milan-San Remo is a race that lends itself to many types of riders, and is no longer a race that favours sprinters. Puncheurs such as Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) can try their luck on the ascent of the famous Poggio climb, while sprinters such as the Frenchman's teammate, Fabio Jakobsen, will hope things come back together for a mass bunch sprint for the line.

Alternatively, rouleurs such as Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) or Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM) can chance their arm at any moment while the puncheurs do battle. Last year, Mohorič’s breathtaking descent from the Poggio - aided by a dropper seat post - caught everyone by surprise.

Here’s our pick of the main men capable of following in the Slovenian’s footsteps this time out.

Biniam Girmay

Biniam Girmay

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Girmay is one of a select group of one-day specialist riders who can climb, which has rapidly led to him being considered more of a puncheur than sprinter. Although it’s tough to pigeonhole a rider possessing his vast array of attributes into one particular category.

Nevertheless, the 22-year-old Eritrean has firmly established himself as a huge threat in any Monument he lines up at, particularly after his Ghent-Wevelgem victory in 2022. San Remo’s finale seems tailor-made for Girmay, particularly with the uphill punch on the Poggio before the fast and furious descent into San Remo.

The Intermarché-Circus-Wanty man comes into the Monument on the back of a decent week of racing at Tirreno-Adriatico. Girmay was in the thick of the action in stage three’s sprint finish, beating both Fabio Jakobsen and Wout van Aert to the podium behind stage winner Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck).

If Girmay can hang on when the attacks start raining down on the Poggio, he is the exact type of rider who could spring a surprise on the Via Roma, just like Stuyven did in 2021.  

Tadej Pogačar 

tadej Pogacar

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With the way that he’s started the 2023 season, it would be absolute folly to exclude Tadej Pogačar from a list of favourites for any Monument, let alone Milan-San Remo.

The Slovenian is in scintillating form, and has just won Paris-Nice where he took three stage wins as well as the points and youth classifications. Before arriving at the Race to the Sun, the Slovenian had already accrued four wins in just nine days of racing which, combined with Paris-Nice, adds up as one of his best starts to a season yet.

UAE Team Emirates arrive at Milan-San Remo with a squad built around their Slovenian talisman once more. The likes of Davide Formolo, Domen Novak and Matteo Trentin will be able to light up the Cipressa - as the team did last year - before launching Pogačar when the foot of the Poggio arrives.

The two-time Tour de France champion tried a series of fiery attacks on the race's final climb last year, which ultimately came to nothing. However, Pogačar is the exact type of rider who can throw the script out of the window and take everyone by surprise.

A Pogačar attack on the Cipressa anyone? 

Mads Pedersen

Paris-Nice 2023

(Image credit: Anne Christine Poujoulat / Getty)

Mads Pedersen is another rider capable of just about anything in a one-day setting. The Dane can get into a breakaway setting, before outsprinting his rivals as he showed at last year’s Tour and Vuelta a Espana. Plus, he can also comfortably take control in messy sprint finishes, as he did with his stage two victory at the recent Paris-Nice.

Therefore, with his adaptability considered, it seems logical to consider him a favourite for one of the biggest races in the Spring Classics schedule.

Last time out, the former road world champion grabbed sixth place in San Remo, and was firmly in contention behind Mohorič for the podium places. He will almost certainly be there once more this weekend, and will be one of many riders that the likes of Van Aert and Alaphilippe will look to distance on the Poggio.

If things come down to a hectic sprint, Pedersen has the power and engine to capitalise on any tired legs when the Via Roma arrives. 

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After missing out on last year’s edition due to a case of bronchitis, Alaphilippe will be chomping at the bit for a stab at a second Milan-San Remo title. The Frenchman claimed the honours in 2019 after coming out on top from a group of ten riders in a last-gasp sprint on the Via Roma.

Alaphilippe will be satisfied with his form so far this spring, and has already begun the season in decent shape with victory at the Faun-Ardèche-Classic. He also narrowly missed out on a Tirreno-Adriatico stage win, finishing second behind a rampant Primož Roglič on stage four.

As was the case at his first World Championships win, as well as multiple other victories, Alaphilippe is renowned for his explosive turn of speed on short and sharp climbs, which enable him to force a gap before soloing to victory. Judging by his start to 2023, he will be ready and waiting to pounce when the Poggio arrives. 

Matej Mohorič 

Matej Mohoric

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The defending champion has started the spring in solid form, recording a sixth place finish at Strade Bianche in the build up to his return to San Remo, suggesting all the signs are there for a strong performance on Saturday. 

Much like riders in the mould of Pedersen, Mohorič is a fighter, and will be difficult to shake on the Cipressa and Poggio. By his own admission, the Slovenian lacks the same killer uphill punch that the likes of Alaphilippe and Pogačar possess; however, what he lacks in explosiveness, the Bahrain Victorious rider more than makes up for with his tenacity and ability to endure.

Moreover, Mohorič is undoubtedly one of the very best descenders in the business, and utterly fearless. Speaking to Cycling Weekly in the build up to the race, the Slovenian explained that “nothing will change” on Saturday, and he doesn’t fear being a marked man when the Poggio comes.

If Mohorič is still in the mix when the riders reach the summit of the final climb, watch him risk everything once more for a second victory when the descent begins.

Mathieu van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not including Mathieu van der Poel in a list of riders to watch in a Monument feels almost insulting, although I’ll admit it, I very nearly left him out. The Dutchman has simply not been up to his usual high standards since beginning his road campaign for 2023, and openly admitted that he’s feeling the effects of a long cyclo-cross campaign over the winter in which he became world champion.

He was largely silent throughout Tirreno-Adriatico, and off the pace at Strade Bianche at the beginning of the month. Nevertheless, Van der Poel is full of surprises and is a proven Monument winner. In the grand scheme of things, missing out at Strade Bianche, a race he’s previously won, is far from the end of the world, and he will almost certainly be building towards peaking later in the spring.

On his day, Van der Poel can be right in contention in San Remo, as he’s previously shown with third place last year and fifth in 2021. He can pack a punch on the Poggio, or similarly to Van Aert, wait for a sprint and punish fatigued riders in a reduced group.

We’re predicting a resurgent Van der Poel this weekend, and another podium finish for the flying Dutchman.  

Caleb Ewan

Caleb Ewan after the GP Monseré 2023

(Image credit: Getty)

The last time an out and out sprinter tasted victory at San Remo was 2016, when Frenchman Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) won a mass sprint on the Via Roma. All the signs since then point to the race becoming one for the puncheurs, particularly with the strong crop that are littered throughout the peloton. However, if one man can buck the trend, it’s Caleb Ewan.

The Aussie fastman is a scrapper, and has proven on multiple occasions that he can fight with the strongest climbers when the Poggio arrives, to ensure he’s kept in contention all the way to the finish.

Ewan has finished second in San Remo on two separate occasions, once in 2018 behind Vincenzo Nibali, and again in 2021 to Jasper Stuyven. He was then forced out due to sickness last year. The Lotto Dstny rider has long held ambitions of getting onto the top spot of that podium, and with an excellent foil in Arnaud De Lie, he may do just that in 2023.   

Søren Kragh Andersen 

Soren Kragh Andersen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Dane has started to make a habit of finishing within the top ten in La Primavera. Kragh Andersen finished ninth in 2021, making the selection on the Poggio, and briefly trying to get away when the streets of San Remo arrived.

He was in the thick of the action once more in 2022, making a couple of attacks himself at the summit of the Poggio, looking to force a gap before Mohorič made the decisive move. His key attribute is that he’s a chancer, slipping under the radar on the attack when out and out race favourites are watching one another. We saw that twice at the Tour in 2020 when, aided by team numbers, Kragh Andersen launched last-ditch attacks on two separate stages to secure the victory on both occasions.

The 28-year-old may well find himself in the service of teammate Van der Poel on Saturday, although if the Dutchman still lacks form, Kragh Andersen has the talent to fill in when the race reaches its climax. 

Wout van Aert

Wout van Aert

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Due to the success of his team-mate Roglič at Tirreno last week, Van Aert’s performances largely went unnoticed, although the Belgian appears to be building nicely back to race-winning fitness. Van Aert was forced to miss Strade Bianche due to illness, and sat out Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Opening Weekend, but bounced back at Tirreno and will soon be back to his usual level. With that in mind, he warrants a place in the list.

Van Aert won San Remo in 2020, and knows what it takes to get the job done on the Via Roma. He can attack on the Poggio, before soloing away to victory, or hold the wheel of the likes of Mohoric and Pidcock on the descent, before then trying his luck in a reduced bunch sprint on the finishing straight.

Either way, despite his brief absence from competition, Van Aert will certainly be strong enough to bounce back on Saturday.  

The outside bets 

Arnaud De Lie

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As well as the ten riders named above, San Remo is the type of race where anything could happen, and surprises can spring out of thin air. Sprinters can miraculously hang on over the Cipressa and Poggio, or when their team leader fails, other riders can step forward and shine. Riders like Greg van Avermaet and Benoît Cosnefroy, both of AG2R Citroën, have enough of a kick to follow moves on the final climb, or even launch decisive attacks themselves. As does Christophe Laporte, an outstanding Classics rider in his own right, at Jumbo-Visma.

Sprinters like Jakobsen and Philipsen both shone at Tirreno-Adriatico, and if they manage to get over the Poggio with the select group that will inevitably form, then they could comfortably take advantage of a sprint finish scenario.

On the other hand, there are riders in the peloton who could be a surprise package all together. Riders like Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) at one point seemed destined to win a race like San Remo, and on their day can still perform. Then you have riders like Ewan’s young teammate De Lie at the opposite end of the spectrum. The 20-year-old finished second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad recently, is an outstanding sprinter, and can follow attackers on short, punchy climbs. Nobody will be surprised to see a rider like the young Belgian right in the thick of the action when crunch time arrives on the Poggio.  

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Tom Thewlis

Tom is a News and Features Writer at Cycling Weekly, and previously worked in communications at Oxford Brookes University. He has reported from a wide range of races and events including the Tour de France and World Championships.