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Power Analysis: How Matej Mohorič won Milan-San Remo

Fearless descending was vital, but Mohoric was also sprinting like mad out of every corner down the Poggio. Here we compare his numbers on each critical section to that of Mathieu van der Poel's.

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This year’s edition of Milan-San Remo will go down as one of the greatest in history, and here we look at the power output of race winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) and third-place Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).

Milan-San Remo is the longest WorldTour race in modern cycling at 293km, requiring nearly six hours of pedaling, positioning, and focus before the peloton reaches the hardest climbs of the race.

They say you shouldn’t turn the TV onto Milan Sanremo until the Cipressa, a 5.6km climb with around 25km to go. It’s been decades since anything interesting happened before the Cipressa, and definitely nothing decisive. Normally, the peloton starts to whittle down on the penultimate climb, but it is the action on the final climb of the Poggio that truly decides the race.

At 3.6km with an average gradient of 3.8 percent, the Poggio needs to be attacked extremely hard in order to be decisive. Often, the peloton strings out as attacks fly, but a line of riders regroups on the technical descent into San Remo. This switchback-laden descent is covered in guardrails, sketchy chicanes, and unforgiving brick walls. A small miscalculation could land you in the hospital, but with only 2.5km to go from the bottom of the descent to the finish, these switchbacks could be the winner’s launchpad.

Before we get to the final descent, let’s rewind to the first few hours of Milan-San Remo.

A group of eight riders formed the early breakaway in literally the opening 500m of the race, and after that, Jos Van Emden (Jumbo-Visma) took over at the front of the main group. Riders in the pro peloton thanked the Dutchman after the race for pacing the peloton for the better part of 200km. That’s right: two hundred kilometers.

Mohorič averaged less than 200w for the first five and a half hours, a statistic that is not uncommon for this race.

Mohorič – First 245km
Time: 5:38:56
Average Power: 198w (2.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 235w (3.3w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 387w (5.5w/kg)

Mohoric – First 245km

 

Van der Poel, who did the race after returning to training seven weeks ago post-back injury, averaged almost the exact watts as Mohorič: 195w average and 241w normalized in the opening 245km.

Despite having barely trained during the last couple of months, Van der Poel was one of the favorites, as he is at almost every race he lines up at. But in order to win, he would have to beat the likes of Wout Van Aert, Mads Pedersen, Primoz Roglic, Arnaud Démare, and Tadej Pogačar, who many believed would attack on the Cipressa, the climb before the Poggio.

Pogačar was just coming off an incredible solo win at Strade Bianche, but in order to win Milan-San Remo, he would need to drop as many riders as possible. So that’s why at the base of the Cipressa, Team UAE-Emirates joined forces with Jumbo-Visma to light the race on fire with a ferocious pace that left hardly 30 riders in contention by the summit.

By pro cycling standards, the peak power numbers at Milan-San Remo are unimpressive. But this is because it’s is the longest race in cycling, and fatigue plays a huge part in determining the outcome of the race. When the peloton hit the Cipressa, they had already been riding for six hours, though at an average pace around 3w/kg.

In order to make it up the Cipressa with the front group in 2022, riders needed to push 5.7-6w/kg for ten minutes. The first part third of the climb was the hardest at 6-6.2w/kg, but after that, the pace settled down.

Mohorič – Cipressa
Time: 9:37
Average Power: 414w (5.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 429w (6.1w/kg)
First third of the Cipressa: 438w (6.2w/kg)

Team UAE-Emirates continued to pace after descending off the Cipressa, despite the fact that all the big names were still in the front group: Van Aert, Van Der Poel, Roglic, Démare, etc. Normally the fight for position into the base of the Poggio is one of the most hectic scenes of the year, but this time there were only 25 riders left, so the fight was quite tame.

Mohorič – Valley in between Cipressa and Poggio
Time: 10:10
Average Power: 235w (3.3w/kg)
Average Speed: 51.6kph (32.1mph)

Mohorič averaged less than 250w between the base of the Cipressa and the start of the Poggio, despite an average speed of nearly 52kph in the front group. This shows just how much work UAE-Emirates were doing, using up their domestiques in the hopes of setting up Pogačar to attack on the Poggio.

And that he did, after just a few hundred meters onto Pogačar attacked out of his teammate’s wheel. Powerful as it was, it was a ‘Cat 5 attack,’ done from the front of the group with the entire peloton on his wheel. The Slovenian was probably pushing 1,100w, but he couldn’t get a gap at over 40kph.

Pogačar attacked again… and again… and again on the Poggio, making it four attacks in total, plus a major match-burning to catch Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) who countered on the steepest section of the climb. While Mohorič paced the climb more steadily, Van der Poel followed the first few wheels including Pogačar’s and Van Aert’s, sprinting out of the corners and closing gaps at over 1,000w.

That is what makes the Poggio so hard, not just the average watts-per-kilo, but the repeated sprint efforts out of each and every corner. Because the Poggio has such shallow gradients (mostly 2-4%), the pro peloton climbs it at 40-45kph, meaning that they have to hit the brakes into each corner and accelerate out. We can see these efforts in Van Der Poel’s power file, including the massive effort that he made to close down Van Aert, Pogačar, and Kragh Andersen just before the crest of the climb.

Look closely and you can see that Van der Poel broke 850w twelve times in three minutes, and hit more than 1,000w four times trying to follow the attacks. We can also see how much energy Mohorič saved by staying in the wheels instead of following the attacks – nearly 40w (or 0.2w/kg) to come across the top less than two seconds behind the leaders.

Van der Poel – Poggio
Time: 5:53
Average Power: 470w (6.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 504w (6.7w/kg)
Final push: 566w (7.5w/kg) for 1:23

Mohorič – Poggio
Time: 5:55
Average Power: 434w (6.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 454w (6.4w/kg)
Final push: 512w (7.2w/kg) for 1:30

When Pogačar, Kragh Andersen, Van Aert, and Van der Poel began the descent off the Poggio, the slender figure of Matej Mohorič appeared at the front of the peloton, slotting into first position and less than two seconds behind the leading four-some. In two corners, the Slovenian national champion had the caught the leaders, and two bends later he snuck up the inside of Van der Poel before adjusting his line for Pogačar.

The Tour de France champion didn’t put up much of a fight, and seconds later, Mohoric was in the lead with the rest of the peloton flailing behind. It took one switchback for Mohoric to get a gap, and he hit the gas at nearly 1,100w to pile on the pressure. Mohoric nearly went into the gutter when he took his eyes off the road (let that be a lesson), but he bunny-hopped onto the road and was diving into the next corner before we caught our breath.

Mohorič – Poggio descent
Time: 3:33
Average Power: 293w (4.1w/kg)
Max Power: 1087w (15.4w/kg)
Average Speed: 53.6kph (33.3mph)

In Mohoric’s Strava file, we can see that he was fully sprinting out of every corner on the Poggio descent, hitting 900-1,100w each and every time. He had the gap and the victory was within reach when he came around a sweeping left-hander and nearly lost it. On replay, it look like his wheel had slipped, he readjusted his body position, but the front wheel continued to shutter and Mohoric almost took his bike into the shops. But somehow he saved it, and moments later he went flying into San Remo with a five-second gap.

We knew from last year’s Tour de France that, with all due respect, Matej Mohoric is not one of the strongest riders in the peloton. Instead, he is strong rider who is arguably the best breakaway calculator in professional cycling; and he also happens to be one of the best and most fearless descenders in the world.

He is also incredibly aerodynamic, which we learned at the Tour when he soloed to a stage win while hardly averaging 5.1w/kg for half an hour. Milan-San Remo wasn’t so different, as the Slovenian could hardly push 400w (5.6w/kg) in the nail-biting finale. While Van der Poel and others failed to pull back the gap, Mohoric was on his way to his first Monument victory.

Mohorič – Final 2.2km
Time: 2:26
Average Power: 405w (5.7w/kg)
Average Speed: 56.3kph (35mph)

Van der Poel cleaned up the group sprint with a clean 1,350w effort, but it was only for third as Anthony Turgis (Total-Energies) had capitalized on the group’s discombobulation to get away in the final kilometer.

Van der Poel – Final 2.2km
Time: 2:24
Average Power: 445w (5.9w/kg)
Final sprint: 1253w (16.7w/kg) for 8 seconds
Max Power: 1358w (18.1w/kg)