It ended in a sprint as Milan-Sanremo so often has, but this was no ordinary edition of the longest of cycling’s Monuments: 288km raced at a record average speed of 46.11km/h! Jasper Philipsen got the spoils but Michael Matthews can be pleased with his comeback from illness to claim second place ahead of Tadej Pogacar.


By Rob Arnold (Photos: Stefano Sirotti)


“I’m happy with the podium, but being so close, it’s bittersweet.”

Michael Matthews can rightly consider his second place in the 115th edition of Milan-Sanremo as a conquest. Beaten in a sprint against one of the fastest men in the peloton by less than half a wheel is like a win, especially in a race such as this. It has a script and we know the various scenarios that can play out.

“I think tomorrow morning I’ll be happy with my performance,” said the 33-year-old about this third podium finish since his MSR debut in 2014. “But… right now, being this close to a Monument after so many podiums, it’s hard.”

Michael Matthews, 3rd in 2015 and 2020… and 2nd in 2024.

The Australian from Jayco-AlUla is one of the most consistent finishers in a race that he’s targeted largely because it suits his strengths so well. Contested on roads close to his European home, he knows the routine and is capable of maintaining focus during what is always a long day on the bike.

He can climb with the best puncheurs in the peloton while always leaving a little in reserve for the final kick.

The climbs at the end play their part. The Cipressa. The Poggio. Both have determined the result in the past and they would again factor into the equation but bravado on the descent – particularly the final one that leads to the streets of Sanremo – is also required.

Ultimately it would again come down to the randomness of a bunch sprint… albeit one from such an elite selection that anyone who survived was in contention for victory. From a group of 12, Jasper Philipsen timed things perfectly and after 288km of racing he saw the front for the first time in the final moments of a race that lasted over six hours.

Fast or faster was a theme of a race that saw a Belgian star shine brightest.

There is always anticipation for this first Monument of the season. The build-up seems to last forever but it’s only in the final few days that we can begin to consider who the real favourites are. Form is one thing that matters but so too the depth of strength in the teams boasting riders who have the versatility required for a race like this.

In 2024 Matthews was cunning, strong and patient. He didn’t mix it up with the obvious pre-race favourites on the descent of the Poggio. That’s the kind of terrain that lures men who have put the downhill ramp to great use when they claimed their title.

The defending champion Mathieu van der Poel – resplendent in his rainbow jersey – managed the ascent and then, as expected, surged after the crest of that final hill.

The world champion gained ground on the remnants of the peloton but Tadej Pogacar’s team-mates ensured that he was still in contention for one of the two Monuments he’s yet to win.

Ordinarily if MVDP and Pogacar gain some ground on a descent like the Poggio, we can assume they’ll wrestle one another while also gaining time on the bunch. But Milan-Sanremo, as predictable as it may be, is a beautiful race because the prestige attached to victory ensures surprises are also part of the equation. The two superstars of modern cycling were impressive but they were matched by a collective of other riders who are also versatile, well-supported and determined enough to know that the finish line is still a few kilometres away… it’s in those dying moments of the race when big gaps can appear.

It was the same again in 2024, with Tom Pidcock showing his all-round class and putting himself in contention. His effort on the descent was impressive but also doomed because of the quality of those in pursuit. When the Brit was reeled in on the flat roads, it provided a chance for those who aren’t quite so heavily marked – and this year the biggest surprise of the selection was Matthews’ team-mate from last year, Matteo Sobrero, now racing with Bora-Hansgrohe.

Sobrero gained considerable ground inside the final kilometres but after six hours raced at over 46km/h he simply couldn’t hold the pace required to overcome far more fancied rivals. The Italian eventually rolled over the finish line in 12th place, the last of the riders who would sprint it out for victory.

When fast turned to faster and the final sprint began in earnest it seemed that this year, finally, Matthews had managed his tactics to perfection. He surged from mid-pack and could see the line closing in quickly as he thumped down the left-hand side of the road and into the lead.

It was a display of class and speed that Matthews can indeed be pleased with. There was still distance to cover, and anticipation remained all the way to the very end of this epic contest.

With his head down Matthews was committed all the way to the finish but so too was Philipsen, the sprinter who amassed 18 race wins in 2023. There wasn’t much of a gap between the Australian and the barricades but it was enough for the Belgian to find some room.

It was a drag race for the final 50 metres with Matthews and Philipsen almost level. It was the final throw of the bike as they crossed the line that made the difference and, with less than half a wheel separating the pair, Alpecin-Deceuninck’s sprint maestro managed the biggest one-day race coup of his life.

Celebrations for Philipsen followed while Matthews came to terms with another close call. Second in a stunning edition of MSR is a conquest, especially considering the two fastest men in the sprint gained considerable ground on a determined Pogacar.

He’s a GC specialist who wins Classics and has consistently shown that he is the best all-round rider of his generation – perhaps any generation – and Pogacar, in third place, highlights the quality of a contest that will be fondly remembered by all who played their part in ensuring that La Primavera in 2024 lived up to the hype.

Milan-Sanremo is a beautiful race. It has prestige and history, and it inspires riders year after year as they consider their chances. There was a collective of superstars vying for victory on Saturday and they put on a display of racing that was thrilling and memorable.

Matthews was close again in the race he loves but Philipsen was simply faster at the moment that mattered most.



– By Rob Arnold