Philipsen Defies Odds and Pogačar to Win Thrilling Milan–San Remo

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The 2024 Monuments season kicked off this weekend with the longest race of the year, the 288km Milan–San Remo, and it provided late dramatics and thrills that will be hard to top in any race this season. After more than six hours of racing, Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Jasper Philipsen beat Michal Mathews (Jayco AlUla) to the finish line by an eyelash and became the first sprinter to win the race since Arnaud Démare in 2016. Pre-race favorite Tadej Pogačar finished third.

Philipsen’s first Monuments victory was made possible by a slowdown in the final 500m by the lead group as they started attacking each other and by teammate Mathieu van der Poel’s stellar work in bringing Philipsen’s group to the front. Mathews was the first to attack, with Pogačar and Mads Peterson (Lidl-Trek) in his wake, and seemed to have the race wrapped up. But then the 26-year-old Belgian produced a powerful move to catch up to Mathews and threw his bike at the finish line to nip the Australian by the smallest of margins.

“I was happy that Mathieu was there in the front because I knew that he could follow the attacks, and that I wasn’t able to,” Philipsen said after the race. “I could follow at a small distance but I was happy that they hesitated for a bit. I have to be thankful to Mathieu that he could hold it all together and we could sprint.” This was also the fastest ever edition of the race, with the winner timed at an average speed of 46.1 km/h.

“A sprint after 300km is really strange and my legs exploded a bit,” Philipsen admitted, “but I’m happy that I just had 5cm to beat Matthews. This feels amazing but I haven’t realized it yet. It’s one of the best races, so this is amazing. A minute after the finish, that’s when I realized I’d won.”

That it came down to a sprint finish was down to the failure by Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates to have enough riders at the front of the peloton to soften up his rivals on the final two climbs of the race, the Cipressa (5.6km @ 4.1%) and the legendary Poggio di Sanremo (3.6km @ 3.7%). Their work actually began on the third-from-last climb, the short but relatively steep Capo Berta (1.7km @ 7%, with sections of up to 9%). That’s where six UAE riders, including Pogačar, surged to the front of the peloton and upped the already fast pace to try and tire the Slovenian’s rivals.

They took 1 minute off the lead of what remained of a 10-rider breakaway as riders dropped from the back of the group like ripe fruit from a tree. But when the peloton reached the Cipressa, Pogačar was alone at the front, with no UAE rider in sight. He was soon joined by teammate Isaac del Toro, the youngest rider in the race, and the 20-year-old Mexican put in an excellent shift, reducing the peloton further, until he was relieved by Tim Wellens. The Belgian also worked hard, but it was not enough to weaken Pogačar’s rivals, so that when on the descent from the Poggio the Slovenian made the last of his five attempts to break away on his own, he was soon joined by van der Poel, Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) and several others.

When they reached sea level, 2022 Milan–San Remo winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) made a desperate run for the line, opening a gap of about 50m, but in vain. By this time van der Poel, the race’s defending champion, had realized that the race would end in a sprint and that Philipsen was still going strong. So he took control of the pursuing group and brought his teammate into position to take a historic victory, with Pogačar completing the podium. But the two-time Tour de France winner was not happy.

“We had a plan and we stuck to it, but we missed a bit, maybe 10% we missed on the Cipressa and after,” he said after the race. “So in the end the team had to wait too long on the Poggio, so [the race] wasn’t too hard. I tried with two attacks. I had incredible legs, but this year [the race] wasn’t hard enough for it to be a climber’s race. I did everything that I could to be in third place. I think in this situation I couldn’t have done much better. It was close.”

The final 50km or so of the race were breathtakingly dramatic and that nail-biting sprint finish ensured that this edition of the Milan–San Remo would to stick in the memory for quite some time.

2024 Milan San-Remo results

  1. Jasper Philipsen, Alpecin-Decouninck, 6:14:44
  2. Michael Mathews, Jayco AlUla, t.
  3. Tadej Pogačar, UAE Team Emirates t.
  4. Mads Peterson, Lidl-Trek t.
  5. Alberto Bettiol, EF Education–EasyPost t.