Liège-Bastogne-Liège debutant Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was not in the mix for victory at the end of 257km of racing but arguably produced one of the best performances of the weekend, finishing sixth in Liege, just 24 hours after an epic 50km solo to seal the BinckBank Tour on Saturday.
The Dutch champion led the chase group in the final 10 kilometres heading into Liège, evoking memories of his stunning win at Amstel Gold Race last season, but this time was unable to catch then on the line. He still finished best of the rest from the chase group, taking the sprint for sixth and so indicated he was on form for the rapidly approaching cobbled Classics.
"I think I can be super happy because I was sixth in my first Liège," he said after the finish.
"Especially after Saturday. I felt that I had made that effort, but they can't take the BinckBank Tour away from me. That was a goal too, and the conclusion is that I am going really well."
Van der Poel did, however, rue the missed opportunity to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Bahrain-McLaren's Matej Mohorič managed to bridge a 15-second gap in the final kilometres to compete with the leaders, eventually taking fourth after Julian Alaphilippe's relegation. The Dutchman admitted that he didn't have the legs to go with the leaders over the day's final climb.
"It feels like a missed opportunity," he said. "On the climb I was a little short. But when I see afterwards that Mohorič was there, it's still bitter.
"I was at my limit when they attacked. I didn't do the course recon either. I felt very good but when those five accelerated, I couldn't keep up. Then you hope to come back if the co-operation is good. But Mohorič rode away and gets up to them. It's my own fault for not going along."
Van der Poel believes that he has a chance to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in future, "if everything goes well" but wondered about the impact of the Giro d'Italia on the start list this year.
The cobbles will be his next focus though, starting after Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. Van der Poel will head to Gent-Wevelgem to make up for the cancellation of Amstel Gold Race, before returning to the Tour of Flanders and making his Paris-Roubaix debut later this month.
That is, if the race, which looks to be under threat due to COVID-19, goes ahead.
"[Gent-Wevelgem] is the replacement for Amstel Gold Race," he said. "It's still important – we can take a lot of points to be the best ProTeam. I have to take everything I possibly can, especially now that Roubaix is also uncertain. I also did the distance again, which is also important. All in all, satisfaction prevails over the disappointment."
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