The Jumbo-Visma team had nine men on the start line of the Netherlands Road Championships in Drenthe on Sunday but even with a full squad they were no match for the might of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) on the 7.3km circuit that went over and around the famous landfill climb, the VAM-berg, 25 times. Timo Roosen, the team's best-placed rider in third behind Sunweb's Nils Eekhoff, said there was "nothing that could be done about Van der Poel".
The cyclo-cross world champion reeled in an attack by Eekhoff, splitting the chasing group, and then attacked with 44km to go on the steepest, cobbled part of the 'Col du VAM' climb and shot away like a rocket.
"There was nothing that could be done about Van der Poel," Roosen said. "Pascal [Eenkhoorn] tried several times to follow in his wheel. That was very brave. We tried everything, but this was the best we could do. I don't think we can blame ourselves. The best has won, that seems clear to me. For me it is nice to be on the podium. On the last climb we decided among ourselves who would be third."
The Dutch road championships took place on the circuit in Drenthe on a course limiting to the area around the landfill, with most of the area fenced off from fans and few people allowed on the sidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A heavy rain shower in the early part of the race led officials to shorten the race by two laps but the climb, which pitches up to 22 per cent and averages over 9 per cent, still made it a race of attrition. Only 17 riders finished as the officials pulled the peloton to prevent them from being lapped.
"We wanted to get away in a breakaway and we certainly wanted to have our strongest men there and make Alpecin-Fenix chase, instead of the other way around," Roosen told Wielerflits. "We hoped that Mathieu van der Poel would waste a lot of energy as a result."
The plan seemed to work in the first half of the race but Van der Poel put in a superhuman effort to drop everyone. "It became such a gruelling race. At one point so many groups went away and in the end, the best surfaced. That was very clear, I think."
Van der Poel said that he attacked to keep the Jumbo-Visma riders from coming back together. "I tried several times but I knew the cobblestones was the best place to do it because it was the hardest. I made my decision because I saw the group behind coming back with three more Jumbo-Visma riders. Then they would have been eight riders in the front and I didn't want that to happen so I made a decisive move there.
"It was quite early actually. I was hoping for a rider with me - not from Jumbo of course, but from another team - but I was alone and I immediately had a nice gap of 30 seconds and then I knew that I had to give it my all."
With only his brother David and Oscar Riesebeek as teammates in the race, Van der Poel was at a disadvantage, tactically, but thanked the Alpecin-Fenix duo for their work.
"Oscar was really strong but also David jumped a lot in the group but he had a flat tyre at a really bad moment. It's too hard to come back on this lap it costs too much energy. we were only three riders but we did an amazing job. It's not only my victory but also for them."
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