Milan-San Remo: 10 riders to watch

A closer look at the top favourites and dark horses for the opening Monument of the 2024 season

Clock13:14, Thursday 14th March 2024
Pogacar, Van der Poel, Laporte, Mohoric, and Bettiol (L-R, T-B) are among the contenders for Milan-San Remo

© Getty Images

Pogacar, Van der Poel, Laporte, Mohoric, and Bettiol (L-R, T-B) are among the contenders for Milan-San Remo

The 2024 Milan-San Remo is fast approaching and, as ever, we have a star-studded line-up and an open array of potential race winners.

The opening Monument of the season is at the same time one of the most formulaic Spring Classics, following the same rhythms each year, but also one of the most unpredictable, with a host of potential outcomes from an electric finale over the Poggio.

The puncheurs will try to get away on the Poggio, the sprinters will try and stay within sight, while the descent represents another turning point, and the flat final couple of kilometres to the Via Roma open yet more tactical doors.

With that in mind, potential Milan-San Remo winners come in many shapes and sizes. Here, we've picked out 10 riders, from the top favourites to the dark horses, who are worth keeping an eye on this Saturday.

Mathieu van der Poel

  • Team: Alpecin-Deceuninck
  • MSR record: 4 appearances – winner in 2023, 3rd in 2022, 5th in 2021, 13th in 2020

A few years ago, if you’d said a rider would be able to rock up at Milan-San Remo as the red-hot favourite despite not having raced their road bike in six months, most folk would have asked if you needed medical assistance, but that’s both modern cycling and the almighty power of Mathieu van der Poel for you.

The Dutchman was untouchable during the 2023/24 cyclo-cross season, and he’ll head to Italy this weekend as the rider to beat once again as he looks to defend his title. The lack of road racing honestly shouldn’t be a deciding factor, especially given the fact that he made his season debut at San Remo in 2022 and came third on that occasion.

He’ll be in flying form and, although the outcome of the race will be decided during a small window on either side of the Poggio, it’s Van der Poel who has the strongest armoury of any rider on this list. He can power away on the ascent, push clear on the descent, or win in a reduced sprint.

Milan-San Remo is certainly a lottery but Van der Poel has more tickets than most when it comes to those lucky numbers. Win, and he’ll be the first rider to claim Milan-San Remo in the rainbow jersey since Giuseppe Saronni in 1983.

Filippo Ganna

  • Team: Ineos Grenadiers
  • MSR record: 6 appearances – best finish of runner-up in 2023

Until last year, Ganna’s record in Milan-San Remo was average at best, with nothing of note in his first five starts. Then he took an impressive second to Van der Poel in 2023 and followed that up with sixth in Paris-Roubaix to reignite talk of a Spring Classics career. He’s not quite in the early-season form of 12 months ago but, having lost out to Juan Ayuso by just one second in the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial, he’s clearly moving in the right direction.

There is a theory that Milan-San Remo might be coming a fortnight too early for the Italian, especially given the fact that he’s still below his very best, but at some point the 27-year-old will hit his stride. Ineos Grenadiers have also been stuck on 499 wins for several weeks and it’s not inconceivable that they close that circle with a home favourite picking up a Monument on domestic roads.

Ganna beat Pogačar and Van Aert in a sprint for second last year too, so the notion that he can only win if he’s alone doesn’t stand up. He will need to withstand the attacks on the Poggio, however, and then hope he has enough in the tank for the final sprint to the line.

Tom Pidcock

  • Team: Ineos Grenadiers
  • MSR record: 2 appearances – 15th in 2021, DNF in 2022

Like his Italian teammate, Pidcock is slowly rising to the boil in terms of early-season form. The British rider put in an admirable attempt at defending his Strade Bianche title a fortnight ago, with fourth on the dirt roads of Siena, before picking up his best-ever GC result in a WorldTour stage race courtesy of ninth in Tirreno Adriatico.

There’s still a gulf between those performances and where the likes of Pogačar is now and where Van der Poel was in the ‘cross season but hesitation and second-guessing are vital elements in a San Remo finale, and Pidcock could be a major beneficiary.

Pidcock might lack the explosive power of some of his rivals but he remains an opportunist who has a steadily improving record in races of this distance.

Read more: It'll be exciting to see Tom Pidcock flying up and down Milan-San Remo's Cipressa and Poggio, says Ineos DS

Alberto Bettiol

  • Team: EF Education-EasyPost
  • MSR record: 7 appearances – best finish of 18th in 2020

Bettiol edges his way onto our list after a courageous win in Milano-Torino on Wednesday. That 30km solo break put an end to a 12-month win drought and provided a huge confidence boost for both the rider and his team. Whether it’s enough to make a difference this weekend remains to be seen, with several key riders missing from the mid-week warm-up race, and little in the way of previous San Remo results to fall back on.

Bettiol has played cameo roles in the race in the past, and his do-or-die approach has a tendency to pay off with major wins every now and then. However, he’s not only going up against Pogačar and Van der Poel, but also the surprising reality that he’s never won twice in a single season.

Mads Pedersen

  • Team: Lidl-Trek
  • MSR record: 2 appearances – 6th in 2022 and 2023

Patience will be key for the Dane at Milan-San Remo. He is unlikely to follow the first wave of attacks on the Poggio, and will instead hope that his team, along with others, can dive down the descent and neutralise any dangerous moves. There’s no doubting Pedersen’s pedigree at this point, and his sprint after arduously long races is both well-established and lethal.

He has two starts in the race, and two top-10s, which suggests he’ll be in the mix once again but he’ll need to win like Alexander Kristoff did in 2014, when a teammate helped set up a thrilling sprint in the final few hundred metres. Pedersen certainly has the ammo in that regard with Toms Skujiņš and Jasper Stuyven as able wingmen.

Toms Skujiņš

  • Team: Lidl-Trek
  • MSR record: 5 appearances – best finish of 75th in 2021

Along with Jan Tratnik, the Latvian has been one of the revelations of the spring with a fine performance in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad followed by a gutsy second place in Strade Bianche. That ride in Italy was particularly remarkable given the fact that the 32-year-old had to battle back from several obstacles before latching onto the key move that came after Pogačar's lone escapade.

Lidl-Trek arrive at the race with a few options for the finale but it’s Skujiņš who stands out as the rider most likely to try and match the attacks on the Poggio. That could play nicely into the hands of Stuyven and Pedersen, and allow Skujiņš a relatively work-free ride to the finish if he latches onto the right rider and refuses to work.

Christophe Laporte

  • Team: Visma-Lease a Bike
  • MSR record: 9 appearances – best finish of 13th in 2023 and 2018

No list of this nature would be complete without a Visma-Lease a Bike rider, and even with Wout van Aert missing, the Dutch squad remain a major threat for the first Monument of 2024. Laporte has been quietly consistent in his three early season outings so far with a trio of top-10 rides in one-day races, and he goes into Milan-San Remo without the hype surrounding several rivals.

The Frenchman has yet to podium in a Monument but with Van Aert’s absence, there’s a genuine opportunity for the 31-year-old to step up. Olav Kooij is an obvious candidate for a sprint finish but he’s never competed in a Monument, so racing over 280km is a journey into the unknown.

Tadej Pogačar

  • Team: UAE Team Emirates
  • MSR record: 3 appearances – 12th in 2020, 5th in 2022, 4th in 2023

There’s not much to say about Tadej Pogačar that hasn’t already been written. His performance in Strade Bianche, with an 80km solo attack to hold off the best riders in the world, was one of the most dominant performances in living memory – similar to Annemiek van Vleuten’s 106km solo move to win Worlds in 2019. Those achievements feel like once-in-a-lifetime events but Pogačar continues to redefine the boundaries of what it means to be the best male rider in the world.

An 80km solo move in Milan-San Remo is incomprehensible and a successful attack on the Cipressa hasn’t been seen since 1996, but who would write the Slovenian off when it comes to a possible assault on the penultimate climb on Saturday?

Attacking on the Poggio increases any rider’s chances of victory but last year it didn’t quite pan out for Pogačar, who lacked Van der Poel’s pure explosive power. These two riders are the defining characters heading into this year’s race and their battle could come down to an epic tussle worthy of a Monument win.

Maxim Van Gils

  • Team: Lotto Dstny
  • MSR record: 2 appearances – 34th in 2022, 38th in 2023

In just a few months, Maxim Van Gils has come a long way. Back in December of last year, the promising youngster was handed a 25-day ban for turning a race into something akin to an MMA encounter but his form this year has been nothing short of sensational, with three podiums, a win, and plenty of teams now in the hunt for his signature in 2025.

The 24-year-old has been knocking on the door in the Classics for a year or two, with a handful of results just outside of the top 10, and at some point it feels almost inevitable that those placings will be turned into top-fives and podiums.

Few would be surprised to see him make the front group on Saturday. Whether he can pose a threat to the major favourites remains to be seen but the Belgian’s trajectory is worth noting. 

Matej Mohorič

  • Team: Bahrain Victorious
  • MSR record: 7 appearances – winner in 2022, three further top-10s

We’ve yet to see the very best of Mohorič this season. Still, he put in a solid yet understated rider in Strade Bianche before calling for a degree of patience in the media as he built his form towards bigger goals.

The Slovenian is very much the lynchpin within the Bahrain Victorious stable these days, and major results will be relied upon as the 29-year-old navigates through the Spring Classics, Tour de France and then the Olympics.

His track record in major one-day races speaks for itself, and when on form he’s up there with Van der Poel and Pogačar in terms of the number of ways in which he can win Milan-San Remo. The only question is whether he’s ready to peak or if that high-end form is still a couple of weeks out. Either way, he’s not a rider to be taken lightly. 

Who do you think will win Milan-San Remo? Let us know in the comments section below.

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