Mathieu van der Poel finished his spring campaign still searching for a Paris-Roubaix victory to add to his two titles at the Tour of Flanders, taking ninth place in the velodrome at the end of an eventful five-and-a-half hours in the saddle.
The Dutchman had gone into the race as the major favourite among the 175 starters, but ended up finishing 2:34 down on winner Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers).
Van der Poel had made the elite lead group of 12 riders when Jumbo-Visma accelerated at Orchies with 54km to go, and later responded to numerous attacks and counter-attacks in the finale. However, the Alpecin-Fenix rider didn't quite have that decisive move himself, and he was consigned to a chase over the last kilometres of the race after the podium trio of Van Baarle, Wout van Aert, and Stefan Küng had escaped.
"It was a bit of a struggle, definitely not what I had hoped for, but it was also a special race," Van der Poel told reporters after recovering from his efforts on the infield grass at the Vélodrome André Pétrieux.
"Two special ones already," he added, referring to his debut at last year's wet edition of the race. "I think the team did an amazing job, really strong. I was OK again, but I didn't have the legs to win today."
Van der Poel had been among the contenders caught out in the split early on in the race which saw Ineos Grenadiers drive the peloton in the crosswinds, putting him, Van Aert, and Küng on the defence.
The groups became one again at the Arenberg, putting the first major challenge of the day behind him. However, despite avoiding the punctures and crashes that struck so many in the peloton, Van der Poel said that he just didn't have the legs to fight for victory in the final.
"It was a bit of a strange race because when the bunch split in the beginning I didn't really like feel they were going full gas in the crosswinds, but it just split and then it was just racing all day. I didn't panic – I knew we were going to come back,” Van der Poel said.
"Eventually I came back into the race, but I didn't have the legs I hoped for. I reacted to attacks a few times and had no intention continuing to do that. I think I kept fighting well, though."
Despite the disappointment of ending his spring away from the top spots on the cobbles, Van der Poel said he was happy with how things had gone over the past month.
He had returned to racing surprisingly early at Milan-San Remo following a long spell of rehabilitation from a lingering back issue, finishing third at the race before picking up a stage at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali as well as wins at thrilling editions of the Dwars door Vlaanderen and Tour of Flanders.
"Realism prevailed," Van der Poel said. "I'm very happy with my spring, especially with my victory in De Ronde. Now I'm going to rest for a few days."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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