Mathieu van der Poel won Milan-San Remo on Saturday to claim the first ‘Monument’ of the season and the race his grandfather Raymond Poulidor took 62 years ago.
Alpecin-Deceuninck rider Van der Poel won after surging clear on the final Poggio climb with an attack which left some of road cycling’s biggest stars, including two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar, trailing in his dust.
The Italian race was the only Monument Poulidor won in his career but Van der Poel cut an unemotional figure following the win, in stark contrast to the tears shed when claiming the Tour de France’s famed yellow jersey in 2021 — something Poulidor never achieved.
“It’s nice to win the same (race) but in general it’s just really special to win San Remo,” he told reporters after the win.
“It’s probably the easiest Monument but most difficult to win and you don’t get a lot of chances.”
Van der Poel became the first Dutch winner since Hennie Kuiper in 1985 to win Milan-San Remo after also claiming the cyclocross world title for the fifth time last month.
It was Van der Poel’s third win in a Monument after the 2020 and 2022 editions of the Tour of Flanders and his second major one-day classic victory in Italy after Strade Bianche two years ago.
It came in a race which he has criticised for its length and long stretches of flat, largely uneventful riding over the 294 kilometres which makes it the longest race of the season.
“I love the last 100km. The problem is the 200km before,” he added.
“It’s a really difficult race to win. You don’t always win if you’re strongest, so that makes it really special to win.”
– ‘No regrets’ for Pogacar –
Van der Poel surged away from race favourite Pogacar, Wout van Aert and Filippo Ganna after the four riders had broken away on the Poggio.
He eventually finished around 15 seconds ahead of the chasing trio on via Roma after six hours, 25 minutes and 23 seconds of riding.
“No regrets… I was not strong enough to go solo with four guys,” said Pogacar, who missed out on a podium position.
“Van der Poel attacked and I couldn’t follow. He was too strong and I was dead to the finish.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I have high hopes for the what’s coming after this race.”
The day almost got off to a dramatic day when news filtered through of Pogacar, fresh from his win at Paris-Nice, crashing in the pre-race neutral zone.
However, the two-time Tour de France champion dusted himself down and started the race.
Beyond another crash of little consequence involving former winner Julian Alaphilippe on the upper slopes of the Turchino, that was the end of the major drama until Van der Poel put on the afterburners.
A traditional early break featuring none of the race favourites was finally absorbed by the peloton with 27km remaining, just before the penultimate Cipressa climb.
Little changed as the riders popped over onto the descent but Bora-Hansgrohe rider Nils Politt attempted a solo attack on the flat run towards the critical Poggio ascent.
The German was easily caught and the peloton moved onto the Poggio in unison a before Pogacar made a move, charging up the climb with Van der Poel, Van Aert and world time-trial world champion Ganna in close pursuit.
Van der Poel then pushed ahead just before the top and descended into San Remo, handling the downhill segment perfectly, before rolling over the line at the gorgeously sunny Italian Riviera town.
“I went downhill at maybe 80 percent today. I didn’t want to take too many risks. If I crashed would have never forgiven myself,” said Van der Poel.
“If the group comes back you can still sprint for the victory but when you crash it’s impossible. I had that in mind and I just tried to go down steady.”