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The Dutchman blazed out of a four-rider split on the Poggio and held off the chase to cross the Via Roma finishline with plenty of time to spare.
Van der Poel adds the San Remo title to a glittering road palmarès that includes victories across the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold, Strade Bianche and a stage win at the Tour de France.
“I knew I wanted to attack at the end of the Poggio, and I got a small gap,” Van der Poel said at the finishline. “This is one of the races I really wanted to win. The way I won it today is beyond expectation.”
All eyes had been on Pogačar to blow the race apart Saturday, and the Slovenian lived up to expectations.
The double Tour de France champ set teammate Tim Wellens to work at the bottom of the Poggio before he uncorked a savage acceleration that drew out the final four.
Pogačar looked to bend the race to his will as he piled on at the front for the best part of a kilometer. But it was Van der Poel who had the winning move with a show of power that’s become his trademark.
The 28-year-old flew blazed away from his elite company, crested the Poggio all alone, and was never seen again.
Victory sees Van der Poel follow in the wheeltracks of his grandfather Raymond Poulidor in winning La Primavera.
“I am really happy with this one. Not only because he [Poulidor] won it. It’s a monument, and it’s a race every rider wants to win one day,” Van der Poel said.
“I was really focused on this race since I started training after cyclocross worlds. I knew I needed some race days to get to my best level, and I think today was my best level.”
Defending champion Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) finished eighth, while U.S. talent Neilson Powless (EF Education EasyPost) delivered another huge ride to score seventh.
UAE attacks on the Poggio
Van der Poel and Alpecin-Deceuninck kept quiet through the majority of the race as they waited on the right moment.
Instead, it was Trek Segafredo, Jumbo-Visma, and UAE Emirates that worked to keep the race on a close leash, and the day’s break of nine was never allowed more than 3:30 of a gap.
The breakaway started to blow up over the three capi as the peloton started to pile on behind.
A handful of crashes in the skyrocketing pace saw very far outside contenders Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alex Aranburu (Movistar) hit the tarmac.
The final six escapees were finally reeled in at the base of the Cipressa after some 270km off the front. Pogačar’s UAE crew massed on the front over the 5.6km Cipressa and started what looked like the start of Pogačar’s final assault.
Outside contender Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) was one of many fast finishers put on the ropes, but other pure sprinters remained in contention.
It wasn’t until the base of the Poggio that the peloton of around 40 riders truly blew up.
Bahrain-Victorious lit up the burners into the 3.7km climb as Mohorič sat safe in the midst of four teammates. It felt inevitable the Pogačar attack would come, and he launched the expected surge out of Wellens’ wheel at around 6.5km to go.
🌼 Milano-Sanremo presented by @CA_Ita 2023 🌼
— Milano Sanremo (@Milano_Sanremo) March 18, 2023
But when Van der Poel retaliated shortly afterward, it was Van Aert that rallied first to lead Pogačar and Ganna down the treacherous Poggio descent.
The threesome collaborated in the Via Roma gallop, but Van der Poel was long gone as he added another huge line to his stellar palmarès.
Pogačar missed the podium while Ganna gave home crowds something to cheer for with his second-place finish.
Results powered by FirstCycling.com