Milan-San Remo: 10 riders to watch

From Peter Sagan to Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock, VeloNews picks the riders to watch ahead of Saturday's monument.

Photo: Getty Images

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Ahead of this weekend’s first monument of the season, VeloNews picks out 10 star riders to watch at Milan-San Remo.

Selecting one rider from each team, we’ve surveyed the form guide from Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, and highlighted the riders we think have the best chance of victory on the iconic Via Roma.

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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)

Why find 10 riders when all you need is one?

Such has been the hype around Pogačar in recent weeks that many pundits would hand him the victory before a pedal stroke has even been turned  but the reality is that Milan-San Remo is not like Strade Bianche or the hills of Tirreno Adriatico. Instead it’s a 290-plus kilometer battle of attrition that levels the playing field between the all-rounders and the pure sprinters.

For all the talk of Pogačar simply riding away from 200 riders, the stark facts are that the terrain doesn’t naturally lend itself to such a scenario and the field is a lot stronger than people give it credit for.

That’s not to say Pogačar isn’t the number one favorite. He’s looked unstoppable this year and it’s still utterly mystifying as to why we’ve never seen him have a bad day on the bike ever since he moved into the WorldTour.

As Sean Kelly told VeloNews earlier this week, the kid is unstoppable and he has everything in his locker to win a San Remo. The only question mark is whether he can fend off every attack in the final, but if he does ride away from everyone on the Poggio — as some have predicted — then that conversation becomes moot.

Milan-San Remo is the easiest race to finish and the hardest to win, so for that reason alone it’s unwise to crown a champion before we even reach the startline, but Pogačar’s dominance has been that good in 2022 it’s hard to look past him at this point.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)

Wout van Aert tried to limit time losses stage 8 of the 2021 Tour de France. Photo: James Startt
Wout van Aert tried to limit time losses stage 8 of the 2021 Tour de France. (: James Startt)

The Belgian blew hot and cold in Paris-Nice after a tumble early in the race, but his show-stopping defense of Primož Roglič’s yellow jersey was a timely reminder of his all-round ability.

Van Aert is one of the few riders who could potentially match Pogačar’s predicted assault on the Cipressa or Poggio and then beat him in a sprint. Having Roglič as an ally will certainly help, with the Slovenian a potential shield for  when Pogačar makes his anticipated move.

Van Aert’s tactics are likely to be shaped by Pogačar to a certain extent but it would be unfair to suggest that the Belgian will simply wait for the UAE Team Emirates rider to make his move and then try and follow. Jumbo have strength in numbers and their team time trial performance on stage 1 of Paris-Nice demonstrated their collective superiority.

Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo)

The Trek-Segafredo rider was on the periphery of the conversation ahead of last year’s race and 12 months on from his win on the Via Roma, the Belgian finds himself in exactly the same position.

That’s not a problem given that Stuyven used the element of surprise to such great effect last year when he kicked clear of a hesitant front group at the foot of the Poggio descent. The 29-year-old has been in reasonable form so far this year with a handful of respectable results but his campaign moves up a notch with the first monument of the season.

He made it through Paris-Nice without falling victim to illness and he will be hoping to become the first back-to-back winner since Erik Zabel in 2001. Can lightning strike twice?

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

It was Pidcock who let the gap open up to Stuyven back in 2021, but the British rider has made huge strides in such a short timeframe; winning world and Olympic titles, and becoming a major force in the spring classics.

By his own admission he’s still learning the ropes at this level but his all-round ability has been enough to warrant talk of a 5 million Euro contract for next year, and a possible place on Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour de France lineup this July.

On paper, Pidcock has the complete arsenal to thrive in San Remo. He has the durability, the power on the climbs, a neat finish and the spontaneity needed to seize the right moment. The only question mark is over his health after he skipped Strade Bianche due to a stomach virus. If he’s healthy and has a rider like Filippo Ganna to protect him on the Cipressa then he could be a genuine contender for the podium at the very least.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal)

Ewan is the standout sprinter in the race. Not because he’s the fastest, but because he’s got the best climbing legs among the fastmen, while his two second places demonstrate just how close he’s come to victory in the past.

The Australian has been on song this year too with three wins and second place in Kuurne last month. Unlike a number of riders on this list though, Ewan can only bank on one form of tactic in order to triumph. He can follow on the two final climbs but his sprinting prowess ensures he has few allies in the finale, and that he’s unlikely to be the one closing down moves either. His sprint is potent but his odds rely on the kindness of others to close late attacks.

Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)

With the world champion Julian Alaphilippe out and the team on the back foot with injuries and illness, the responsibility of leadership in Milan-San Remo falls at the feet of a debutant who has never raced a monument.

Normally that would inspire a sense of trepidation but Jakobsen is no normal rider and it’s fair to say that he’s shuffled ahead of his rivals to become the best sprinter in the world in 2022.

Of course, there’s a massive difference between 195km in Kuurne and the near 300km on offer in Milan-San Remo and plenty of Patrick Lefevere’s sprinters have been undone by the distance in previous years. But whenever Jakobsen is set a challenge he seems to meet it head on and if there’s an inkling of a reduced bunch sprint on the Via Roma, the 25-year-old has every chance of being there.

Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM)

At the time of writing this Team DSM men’s squad were still without a win in 2022, continuing their poor return from last season that saw them take just eight victories.

One of the few bright sparks in the current campaign has been Kragh Andersen who was a constant offensive presence during a brutal edition of Paris-Nice. Unlike a number of his teammates, the Dane is at least competing at the pointy end of races.

It was also Kragh Andersen who caught Stuyven in the finale last year before eventually fading to ninth after the Ewan group made contact in the closing meters. What last year demonstrated, however, was that the 27-year-old had the necessary talent to compete in nearly 300km races – something that had been missing from his repertoire until that point.

Given DSM’s current plight, a rider needs to step up, and all the evidence in 2022 suggests that Kragh Andersen is the one to do it.

Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies)

The three-time world champion has been on the wane for some time now but that doesn’t mean that at the age of 32 he can no longer be competitive.

Even a fading Peter Sagan, and one that’s coming back from a bout of COVID-19 can still play a part in races as significant as Milan-San Remo. On Wednesday the TotalEnergies rider took fifth in Milano-Torino and while that pales in comparison to what’s coming this weekend, it still bodes well.

Sagan has been fourth in the last three editions of San Remo and although he’s likely to be more of a follower than a leader on either the Cipressa or the Poggio, he remains a threat. Like Stuyven last year, Sagan has a chance of finally picking up the monument he’s threatened to win but never quite managed.

Such a win would need to rely on a number of factors, not least the pure sprinters all being dropped or severely fatigued, and then for Sagan to exploit any form of hesitation from those still in the race. After such a disruptive start to the campaign it’s a tall order but Sagan has the capacity and the experience to play another cameo role.

Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux)

Experience suggests that Alexander Kristoff is the main man at Intermarché, and the Norwegian has been in decent form since the start of the season with a win and a splattering of podium places in the last few weeks.

He’s a former winner too, but we’ve gone for his 21-year-old teammate Grimay who has seamlessly found his feet at WorldTour level with a win in Mallorca at the start of the season and three fine top-tens in Paris-Nice earlier this month. He’s never started a monument or even a race above the 250km mark, so the Eritrean heads into the unknown in many regards.

However pressure and expectancy appear to not phase him, and he heads to Milan without the hindrance of leadership. If Kristoff falters or is hampered by bad luck then the Belgian team has a top-notch understudy ready to fill in.

Michael Valgren (EF Education EasyPost)

The American team has been ravaged by illness in the last few weeks and their Milan-San Remo squad has been no exception.

It’s probably too early to count on Alberto Bettiol, who is still on his way back to full health, while James Shaw and Owain Doull might be given free roles in a race they have little pressure in. This team needs someone to step up and that could be Michael Valgren.

The 30-year-old knows how to win major races, and his form in the second half of 2021 was as good as we’ve seen from him since 2018. He was 11th in Strade Bianche, and he’s clearly not in peak form just yet, but if he can survive the Poggio and keep out of the wind throughout the entire day then there’s every chance that he could pull off an unlikely result.

In many ways he’s in a similar position to Stuyven some 12 months ago, and look how that worked out.

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