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Milan-San Remo 2023 preview: Everything you need to know, and some things you don’t

A seven-course meal of pre-race analysis ahead of the first Monument of the season.

Matej Mohoric wins Milan-San Remo. Photo: ©kramon

Dane
by Dane Cash 15.03.2023 Photography by
©kramon
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With Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the annual debate about overlapping races all in the rearview mirror, it’s time to celebrate the arrival of the season’s first Monument: Milan-San Remo!

As the iconic Italian one-day looms, it seemed like a good idea to compile a guide to everything you need to know about the race, with a closer look at the route and the favorites for this year’s edition. In case that’s not enough, we’re going to take it a step farther.

Here’s what you need to know – and also a few things you maybe don’t need to know but we’ll tell you anyway – ahead of the 2023 Milan-San Remo.

What you need to know

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ll be tuning into the action, so we’ll open with the most important details: When to watch.

The 114th edition of Milan-San Remo kicks off this Saturday, March 18, at 10:10am local (CET) time in Abbiategrasso in the suburbs of Milan. It’s a long one at 294 total kilometers. As such, the projected finish time for a medium-speed race is at 5:10pm local time in San Remo. Yes, that’s seven hours later.

Truth be told, things only tend to really heat up as the peloton approaches the Cipressa. No guarantees, and apologies in advance to the purists out there, but you’ll probably catch most of the action even if you only start watching at 4:00pm local time (11:00am EDT/3:00pm GMT/2:00am AEDT).

The route highlights

With the start moved to Abbiategrasso this year, the Milan-San Remo route has been tweaked for 2023, but only somewhat. After the opening hour, things will seem pretty familiar as the route leaves the Lombardy region and heads into Piemonte and then Liguria on the coast.

The race will head up and over the Passo del Turchino near the midway point, and then from there, the challenges come in the form of short climbs within the final 60 km in Liguria. The Capo Mele, 242.5 km into the race, is the first of the “Tre Capi” that will add to the fatigue in the legs, and then it’s onto the Cipressa, where at least a few big names are almost guaranteed to try their luck.

Typically, however, the real battle comes on the Poggio. From the top, it’s only 5.5 km to the finish, much of that on a technical descent that could be the difference-maker for an attacker. Finally, after nearly 300 km of racing, Milan-San Remo concludes on the Via Roma, the straightaway that has hosted so many legendary victories over the years.

Last year, it was Matej Mohorič who took the honor, assisted by his dropper seatpost. Who will it be this year? We’re glad you asked …

Five favorites and their form

After years and years of favoring the sprinters, Milan-San Remo is decidedly a wide open affair these days, which means the list of potential winners is a very long one. Much more so than, say, that three-week race in July, or even the one that takes place in Italy in less than two months.

Instead of boring you with a long rundown of the top riders on every team in the race – made ever-longer by our fear of leaving off anyone with even a tiny chance of winning – we’ll just give you some intel for a few hand-picked favorites.

Wout van Aert at Tirreno-Adriatico. Photo: ©kramon

As of publication time, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has the shortest odds of anyone with the folks who make those decisions for a living. He’s a former winner, and he has the versatility to contend however the race plays out. That said, his form is a slight question mark. Tirreno-Adriatico is the only road race on his resume so far this year. He did look very strong in some key moments, but a sixth-place finish in a bunch sprint was his best result there, with a crash dashing his hopes on a stage that suited him.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is another popular bet, and he has been showing why throughout the young season so far. He won the lone one-day race he has started so far, the Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior, and he took three stages and the overall wins at both the Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice. It’s a bit surreal to think of him as such a top contender for a race that was a sprinter’s event for so long, but here we are.

Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) is the defending champ, and he has looked solid, if not spectacular, so far in 2023. He had a podium performance at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and a top 10 at Strade Bianche. His engine and descending skills are huge assets here, but a repeat win would be a huge feat for Mohorič, considering he won’t be flying under the radar and will probably need to drop everyone to win.

Mathieu van der Poel at Tirreno-Adriatico. Photo: ©kramon

Given his Classics skill set, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is an obvious contender, but he has yet to show top form on the road in 2023. He seemed to be a bit off his game at Strade Bianche, and then he mostly rode in a support role at Tirreno-Adriatico, making it hard to say how he’s feeling for Milan-San Remo. In other words, a Van der Poel victory would be more surprising than you’d think … and yet who will really be surprised?

With a pair of San Remo runner-up rides on his career palmares, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny) has certainly been close to a Monumental success on the Via Roma before. He will once again be hoping for a sprint. Other than the Australian domestic crit Schwalbe Classic, he has yet to win a race this year, but he has finished a very, very close second two different times already this season.

While the five aforementioned stars will probably be involved in the action on Saturday, there are at least two big names who won’t. Michael Matthews (Jayco AlUla) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) are both late scratchings. Matthews has unfortunately come down with COVID-19, while Pidcock sustained a concussion in a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico.

The Escape star ratings

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Wout van Aert
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Tadej Pogačar
⭐⭐⭐: Caleb Ewan, Matej Mohorič, Mathieu van der Poel, Mads Pedersen
⭐⭐: Christophe Laporte, Julian Alaphilippe, Biniam Girmay
⭐: Jasper Philipsen, Magnus Cort, Filippo Ganna, Arnaud De Lie

The conversation

We’re trying to do things a little bit differently here at the Escape Collective, and as far as race previews go, that means breaking up the monotony of just one voice with some expert analysis from our stable of knowledgable writers. Yours truly teamed up with Abby Mickey to talk through some of the biggest storylines in the race, and then we asked some folks on staff to give us their winner picks.

Dane Cash: Spoiler alert for the readers who haven’t scrolled to that part of the preview yet but … you like Jasper Philipsen for this race. Seems like you think it’s going to come down a sprint?

Abby Mickey: I think that the peloton has been tricked by solo breakaway artists for multiple years in a row and they will be on their toes more this year. But I also think that the presence of Mathieu van der Poel will stall any attacks. If he attacks on the Poggio then I don’t think he can get away, which means that a small group goes with him. I think Philipsen is in that group and I think then Philipsen has a leadout guy and thus wins.

DC: So not necessarily a big huge bunch sprint, but also not Matej Mohorič by himself.

AM: Right.

DC: I think a sprint would actually be really good for the race, longterm at least, because it’s that “will the sprinters catch the late attackers?” narrative that makes the MSR finale so good, and you need the sprinters to win every few years to keep that going. But lately it just feels like the sprint teams are having a harder time controlling, well, not just this race, but every race.

AM: I think you might be right, but I think Philipsen is on the team that has been able to put it together.

DC: So you don’t think Pogačar is going to be soloing to victory then?

AM: I suspect he will try. Pogačar’s gotta Pogačar.

DC: Pogačar’s gotta Pogačar.

AM: What do you think will happen?

DC: I think it’s a small group of attackers and I think Van Aert is fast enough to outsprint anyone else with him. But Pogačar’s gonna Pogačar. And, to make things interesting, hopefully Mohorič will Mohorič.

Our picks

Dane Cash: Wout van Aert
Matt de Neef: Biniam Girmay
Caley Fretz: Tadej Pogačar
Jonny Long: Mathieu van der Poel
Ronan Mc Laughlin: Filippo Ganna
Abby Mickey: Japser Philipsen

Extra credit: What you didn’t know you need to know

If you’re going to watch as much as seven hours of Milan-San Remo, we figure the least we can do is give you some cultural knowledge to set the scene and help (figuratively) transport you to northwestern Italy. You probably did not know that you needed to know this but …

Milan-San Remo takes the peloton from one former Roman settlement to another. The Romans conquered the area that would later become Milan in the third century BCE. A settlement there grew into the Roman city of Mediolanum – which would eventually morph into “Milano” in Italian. For a time, Mediolanum was the capital of the Western Roman Empire itself. Now, Milan is Italy’s second largest city by population.

The peloton at the 2022 edition of Milan-San Remo. Photo: ©kramon

As for San Remo, the ancient town in the area was called Matutia in Latin. In the ensuing centuries, local residents would initially move to higher ground, and then they eventually returned to the coast where San Remo is still located today.

In short, this is a fine race for fans of history. It’s also a long one, so you might work up an appetite over the course of the event. As you might imagine for a race that takes place in Italy, you’re in for a treat if you decide to grab a race-inspired bite. Ligurian cuisine, in particular, has some famously tasty options.

Visiting San Remo itself would afford you all kinds of opportunities to enjoy local seafood favorites, including mackerel, octopus, and various types of shellfish, but if that’s not your thing, fret not. Liguria is also known for pesto, linguine, focaccia bread, and farinata (a kind of chickpea pancake) – just the sort of carb medley to power you through this long day, whether you plan to spend it on the bike or the couch. Enjoy!

Follow the link for the full startlist for the 2023 Milan-San Remo.