Michael Matthews pipped
Jasper Philipsen (R) outsprints Australia's Michael Matthews (C) to win Milan-SanRemo. Image by AP PHOTO
  • cycling

Matthews pipped in agonising finish to Milan-Sanremo

Ian Chadband March 17, 2024

Michael Matthews has been left with bittersweet emotions after a brilliant ride ended with the Australian ace being pipped agonisingly once more by mere centimetres in his bid to win the Milan-Sanremo one-day ‘Monument’.

Having looked as if he had timed his late sprint for the line perfectly with the biggest win of his garlanded career within his grasp on Saturday, the veteran Jayco AlUla rider was edged out in a photo finish by Belgian Jasper Philipsen.

After nearly six-and-a-quarter hours in the saddle following the exhausting 288km ride from Pavia, Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Philipsen estimated he had won by just five centimetres.

It left mixed feelings for 33-year-old Canberra ace Matthews, who has an extraordinary record at the season’s traditional first ‘Monument’ one-day race in Italy, having now enjoyed three podiums and six top-seven finishes in 11 appearances while never quite managing that elusive victory.

“It’s hard. Obviously, I’m happy with the podium but being so close, it’s bittersweet,” said Matthews, after giving his daughter a hug after the finish line. 

“Tomorrow, I’ll be happy with my performance, but at this moment right now, being so close to a Monument after so many podiums, it’s hard.

“To be honest, I did everything perfectly, I wouldn’t have changed anything.”

Matthews had not struggling with illness less than a fortnight ago and had pulled out during the Paris-Nice stage race.  

“The way I’ve bounced back, I’m very proud of myself,” he said. “Paris-Nice didn’t go to plan but Milan-Sanremo is my favourite race of the year, and it always puts a smile on my face on the start line. 

“So to be here in Sanremo on the podium again, it’s really special.”

The runner’s up spot was indeed a superb achievement in a star-studded race billed as a duel between last year’s winner, world champ Mathieu van der Poel and five-time Monuments winner Tadej Pogacar, but which ended in a surprise first sprint finish in eight years.

But while Pogacar’s attacks eventually fizzled out and he had to settle for an excellent third place in the sprint, van der Poel (10th) ended up helping set up teammate Philipsen grab the glory,.

The Belgian scooted up on Matthews’ inside at the finish to grab the victory in the fastest-ever of the 115 editions of the great race, with an average speed of 46.1 kph.

“I didn’t expect Michael Matthews to be that good,” admitted Philipsen. “After 300km, a sprint really feels strange and different, and I was glad there five final centimetres left to beat him.”

Two-time Tour de France winner Pogacar had launched an attack with 5.8km left, with van der Poel chasing him on the final descent from the summit of the Poggio before Bahrain Victorious’s Matej Mohoric attempted an attack of his own.

The final kilometre featured Bora-Hansgrohe’s Matteo Sobrero and Ineos Grenadiers’ Thomas Pidcock attempting to take victory before the Matthews-Philipsen duel proved decisive.

“Pogacar’s attacks were difficult on the Poggio but they weren’t probably as strong as we thought and that suited me better, and I could get through the climbs with better legs at the finish,” said Matthews. 

“We came up with the podium so we should be happy.”