RISING star Mathieu van der Poel sprinted to victory in the Amstel Gold on Sunday to give the Dutch a first victory in the sole cycling classic on their soil this century.
“I still can’t understand what’s happened,” said van der Poel after snatching away a victory Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe appeared to have in his grasp.
Alaphilippe, who has been in sparkling form this spring for the dominant Deceuninck Quick-Step team, broke away with Danish Astana rider Jakob Fuglsang with a little more than 35km to go. With 3km left, the two had a lead of 38 seconds.
But as they started eyeing each other, Pole Michal Kwiatkowski of Sky, riding solo, closed the gap. Behind him van der Poel, who rides for Corendon–Circus, launched a frantic pursuit dragging the chasing group with him.
“I was hoping they would look at each other, but I thought it was over, “ said van der Poel.
When Kwiatkowski caught the leaders with less than 500m to go, van der Poel was not far behind.
“It was only 300m from the line that I realised that it was possible to win,” said van der Poel.
An exhausted Alaphilippe launched a sprint but was overtaken by the speeding van der Poel, who was far enough ahead by the finish to cradle his face in his hands as he crossed the line. The 24-year old became the first Dutch winner since Michael Boogerd in 1999.
“I started my sprint far too far out because I wanted to win. But I kept going to the line,” he said.
Van der Poel, the Dutch prodigy, has begun to delivered on his promise.
He is the son of Adri van der Poel, who won six one-day classics, and the grandson of Raymond Poulidor who won the Vuelta a Espana and finished on the Tour de France podium eight times.
The 24-year-old is also a double cyclo-cross world champion and intends to compete in that discipline, rather than road racing, at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
“Yes, I outdid myself, above all because I felt I still had energy in my legs,” he said. “In such classics, it’s very difficult for everyone but, in the end, I do not know how we did it.”
Alberto Bettiol of Education First, who followed van der Poel’s wheel in the sprint, was second. The Italian won the Tour of Flanders at the start of the month.
Fugslang, who had at one point been in a two-man race, finished third.
“We made a tactical mistake because we did not get the right information on the gaps,” said Fuglsang, who finished third. “But I’m happy to have a podium finish.”
Kwiatkowski was swallowed by the pack and finished 11th.