The Netherlands ended up with a medal at the end of the elite men's road race at the World Championships, but the man who took silver at the end of a brutal, fast race wasn't the name who had been circulating among the top favourites beforehand.
Rather than Mathieu van der Poel battling for victory in Leuven after six hours of racing, it was instead his teammate Dylan van Baarle was sprinting for the medals, grabbing silver from the chase group behind repeat winner Julian Alaphiliippe.
The 29-year-old has already enjoyed a season to remember after triumphing at Dwars door Vlaanderen back in March, and, for a rider who was among the seven working fully in favour of Van der Poel, a medal at the Worlds can only have come as a surprise, especially given how he exited the Vuelta a España at the start of the month.
"After my crash in the Vuelta on stage 12, I was riding with a fractured pelvis," Van Baarle explained in the post-race press conference. "Then I stopped on stage 17, and I was just lying on the couch for five days and I was not allowed to walk anymore so it was tough.
"I kept the faith and our national coach Moerenhout kept faith in me. We worked really hard to get back on a good level and I think we just managed in time to get back in a good condition. Maybe if it was like five days earlier it would've been difficult but now, we just had enough time to recover.
"With that story from the Vuelta it was just super emotional after the finish because I thought it wasn't even possible to come and race here, and I was just happy with the condition."
If the timing of his recovery from serious injury was optimal, then so was Van Baarle's timing during the 268.3-kilometre race. Having made a dangerous break – which included Remco Evenepoel – off the front of the race with 90 kilometres to go, he found himself in what turned out to be the winning move after a group of big favourites bridged across 30 kilometres later.
He made the chasing quartet behind Alaphilippe when the Frenchman made his decisive bid for victory 17 kilometres from the line, too, and stuck in there until the final sprint for the remaining podium places.
Starting from the rear of the group, Van Baarle came from Dane Michael Valgren's wheel in the final 150 metres of the race, coming around the outside to just about pip Valgren and Leuven's own Jasper Stuyven to take silver.
"It wasn't a great sprint," Van Baarle said. "Neilson Powless went hard after the corner already. I know I'm not the fastest guy in the group and after a long race the sprint was never going to be the same so then Neilson went again at 200 metres to go and I just waited in the wheel. They started sprinting and I sat down and could come around so I couldn't believe it at the finish.
"For sure Julian was the strongest. He attacked several times, and we just couldn't follow it at the end anymore. We rode with a good group behind him and just couldn't catch him anymore. He was definitely the strongest one today."
Van Baarle said that the toughness of the race, which saw serious attacks from the peloton kicking off at a massive 180 kilometres away from the line, was in his favour on the day. It was the plan for him to be active in the final, he said, adding that his role was to mark any moves that went for team leader Van der Poel, who ended up in eighth place.
"For me, it's only in my favour if the race is hard," Van Baarle said. "I know that if they attack on those short climbs I can't follow, but when it's a hard race I still manage to produce power. So, for me it was only good. In the end you could see that Van Aert was struggling to follow Alaphilippe so then Jasper decided to go, and I went with him.
"It was always the plan to be in the final and pretty active. I know that I can't follow those guys when they attack on those climbs. I need to be before that, so it was just a perfect situation in a good group, and they came together just before we went to the Leuven circuit. I knew we had a good chance with me and Mathieu being there, so we knew it was a good situation."
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. 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, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content on Cyclingnews and takes on live race text coverage 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 Tro-Bro Léon, Strade Bianche, and the Vuelta a España.
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