Jonathan Milan: The Big Man of the Giro Sprints

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

With one week to go in the Giro d’Italia, the Lidl-Trek sprinter Jonathan Milan has an unassailable hold on the ciclamino, or purple jersey, given to the winner of the points classification, and so is on the verge of repeating his victory in 2023.

The 23-year-old Italian sealed his victory with a typically dominant performance in stage 13, in which he took the lead with about 100m left to race, and let nobody come near him. In a race containing almost all the top sprinters in road racing – with the notable exception of Soudal–Quick Step’s Jasper Philipsen, who is targeting the Tour de France – he has proved, if proof was still needed, that he will be a big player in bunch sprints for many years to come.

Milan has now won three stages in this Giro and sits comfortably atop the points standings, with 284 points, well ahead of Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who has 174, and Tim Merlier (Soudal–Quick Step), at 92. With only two likely bunch sprints left in the race, all he has to do is make it to Rome on May 26. If he does win the ciclamino, it will cap an excellent spring for Milan, who earlier won the points classification in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Tirreno Adriatico.

The Tolmezzo native is unusual for a sprinter, and even for a road racer, because of his size. At 1.93 m (6 ft. 4 in.) and 84 kg (185 lb.), he has to overcome a large frame that is far less aerodynamic than that of his rivals. And he carries a lot more weight than they do. On the other hand, his big body is capable of producing an astonishing amount of power over quite a distance.

Jonathan Milan
Milan will be a big player in bunch sprints for many years to come. © Profimedia

Milan is also not the most elegant cyclist on a straightaway. His head-bobbing and body-jerking style seems to waste almost as much power as it produces. And yet he is almost always in the hunt for the victory and usually finishes at least on the podium. In addition to his four Giro stage wins in the past two years, he has finished second six times.

Milan is also an extraordinarily resourceful rider, able to improvise when necessary. That was certainly necessary at the run to the finish of stage 11, when a chaotic finale decimated the leadouts and Milan found himself alone with 100m to race. He quickly put himself on the wheel of Merlier and, when the time came, produced a trademark burst of power, just nipping the Belgian at the line. (Merlier was later relegated for dangerous riding.)

But, as Milan said following the stage 11 win, the success of a sprint is not only what happens at the end. “It’s not this 20-second sprint that made me happy, or the victory in the end,” he said. “I think it’s all the work we did, that the guys did for me, that the team did today, supporting me, bringing me to the crucial position for the sprint. It’s this that is making me happy. They’re always believing in me and I have to say, ‘Thanks from the bottom of my heart for this.’”

His stage 13 victory was textbook, with five Lidl-Trek riders pulling him into position and giving him a perfect platform for the win. Milan moved to Lidl-Trek at the beginning of 2024, and he discovered a squad that has been greatly improved through the injection of fresh funds by its new sponsor, Lidl. And they have had a very successful spring with now 22 wins, six by Milan, seven by Mads Pedersen, and three by the 21-year-old phenom Thibau Nys, who won the Tour of Hungary GC and points classification (ahead of Mark Cavendish).

Milan really is very fast, fast enough to have been part of the Italian 2021 Olympics gold-medal-winning track pursuit team, which broke the world record for the event not once, but twice. In 2022, he won the silver medal in individual pursuit at the 2021 and 2022 track world championships, to name just a few of the many medals he has won on the track.

So the big man can clearly ride. And, amazingly, he can also climb. Not well enough to challenge Tadej Pogačar, of course, but well enough to have survived the Giro’s tough mountains last year. He will have to do that again this year, with the biggest climbs still to come, if he wants to take the ciclamino home with him again. I think it’s already in the bag.