Mathieu van der Poel’s stunning performance at Strade Bianche captured the attention and praise of his rivals in the peloton, his understandably proud father Adrie and the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Boonen, who produced similar performances during their own careers.
Runner-up Julian Alaphilippe was the first to congratulate van der Poel when he crossed the finish line in Siena five second behind the Dutchman, saying: “Mathieu was simply better.”
Van der Poel’s love of open, aggressive racing, which is also the way Wout Van Aert, Tom Pidcock, Egan Bernal and others seem to race, appears to have created a seismic shift in the sport.
Nibali suggested the new generation of riders are ripping up the racing copy book by disregarding their power meters in races. They are racing far more openly and instinctively, with calculative, data-driven riders risk being left behind.
“[Power meters] can be useful in training but not in racing. The data isn’t useful unless you have a point of reference. We’re better off switching our bike computers off in races or not looking at it,” Nibali said, suggesting that is how van der Poel races.
“We saw what happened at the 2020 Tour de France and what Pogačar did in the time trial. Without a computer and on a lightweight bike, he gave everything he had. And he won.”
Nibali did not ride this year’s Strade Bianche as he gradually builds his form towards the Giro d’Italia and so was able to enjoy watching the aggressive racing on television.
“It was pazzesco (crazy). I switched on the television for the last 60km and I saw what Mathieu did…. Mamma mia!” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“He impressed me. I haven’t seen a rider that sprinted like and did it all on his own. When I saw him accelerate on the Tolfe dirt road sector, it was clear it was game over. I think it’s down to his DNA considering that his grandfather [Raymond Poulidor] and his father Adrie were both champions.. It’s not a hard and fast rule you can see his genes are the foundations of everything.
Adrie van der Poel, himself a former Tour of Flanders and cyclo-cross world champion, spoke proudly of his son’s performance, revealing he told him to savour it because “Only a few riders get to enjoy victories like that.”
“I really appreciate Mathieu's way of racing. What others think of that, whether he's stupid or smart, leaves us a little cold. It is fun for the public to watch but then you have to win now and then,” Adri van der Poel told AD proudly, also touching on his son’s aggressive style of racing.
“Mathieu was there with Tour winners Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal, with the world champion Julian Alaphilippe, with Wout van Aert of course. That makes it really special for me, that strong field of participants,” he told Wielerflits.
When asked when his son’s peak of spring form will end, Adrie said: “After Paris-Roubaix” with a mischievous laugh.
Boonen, whose palmarès includes four victories at Paris-Roubaix, three at the Tour of Flanders and numerous others wins, was stunned by Van der Poel’s performance at Strade Bianche.
“What! The! Fuuuuck! What was all that? On Saturday I sat staring at Mathieu van der Poel with my mouth open,” Boonen wrote in his weekly analysis piece for Het Laatste Nieuws.
“We have known for some time that he is a phenomenon but his dominance in the final of the Strade Bianche surpassed everything.
“The attack on Le Tolfe was already impressive. After that he kept putting pressure on and on the final climb to the Piazza del Campo he simply blasted Alaphilippe out of the wheel. Nota bene: the most explosive rider in the world!”
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