Mathieu van der Poel makes Milan-San Remo history 62 years after his grandfather

SANREMO ITALY MARCH 18 Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team AlpecinDeceuninck celebrates at podium as race winner holding the trophy during the 114th MilanoSanremo 2023 a 294km one day race from Abbiategrasso to Sanremo MilanoSanremo UCIWT on March 18 2023 in Sanremo Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Mathieu van der Poel holds the winner's trophy (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Mathieu van der Poel began to comprehend the significance of his solo victory at Milan-San Remo as the sun set over San Remo.

Few riders have managed to attack alone on the Poggio and then win solo in the Via Rome. Van der Poel did it, setting a new record time for the climb of the Poggio and 62 years after his grandfather Raymond Poulidor won alone on the same finish.

Van der Poel placed his Milan-San Remo win above his most recent cyclocross world title in his father’s home town of Hoogerheide. It also made him fall in love with the magic of Milan-San Remo.  

“I love the last 100 kilometres but the problem is that 200km before,” the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider joked.  

“It’s a unique race because it's a really difficult race to win. You don't always win if you're the strongest, so that makes it really special when you do win. Not a lot of riders have won solo, so I'm proud of my performance.

“They told me it's the only Monument my grandfather won, so it's nice to win the same one.”

Van der Poel is often over aggressive, or overly defensive, in the big races, pushed by his desire to win.This year he raced Milan-San Remo with a clear logic, following the Dutch cycling strategy of licking his rival’s plate clean before starting his own.

When Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) attacked on the Poggio, he waited for rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to close the gap with a huge effort before launching his own attack that distanced cracked Pogačar, Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and Van Aert.    

“That's maybe the experience I have now,” Van der Poel explained. “This is my fourth Milan-San Remo. If this was my first one I don't think I’d have attacked at the end. Now I knew that I had to go for it.

“In the past maybe I was a bit too defensive on the Poggio and aiming more for my sprint but now I felt really strong and I took the risk to go by myself.”

Yet Van der Poel insisted he did not take risks on the descent of the Poggio as he dived through the corners and opened an ever-growing gap on the chasers.

“I went down at maybe 80%,” Van der Poel said. “I didn't want to take too many risks. I’d crash in the downhill, I wouldn’t have forgiven myself. If the group comes back, you can still sprint for the victory but when you crash, it's impossible. I had that in mind. 

"I just tried to go down steady, but not on the limit. And then when I got to the bottom, I just started riding as fast as I could until the finish line.”

Van der Poel spoke at length about his victory in the San Remo casino, knowing he had hit the jackpot.  

“Milan-San Remo is maybe the easiest Monument to ride but it’s the most difficult one to win. You don't get a lot of chances either, so I'm really happy with this one,” he said.

“I think this is also maybe the only Monument where you can have a top five like this with stage racers like Pogačar, a world time trial champion and Hour Record holder like Ganna and of course Wout van Aert. So many riders can win it but only one does.”

This year it was Mathieu van der Poel.

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Stephen Farrand
Head of News

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.