Van der Poel: I didn't have the legs to react to every attack at Amstel Gold
'If we have two guys in front, then I can win the race' says Dutchman
After a successful comeback to racing that has seen him win Dwars door Vlaandern and the Tour of Flanders in recent weeks, it was no surprise that Mathieu van der Poel headed onto home ground at Amstel Gold Race as the major favourite.
The Dutchman was the form pick for Sunday's race, which he won in a thrilling comeback victory three years ago. However, he came undone in the final as first Michał Kwiatkowski and then Benoît Cosnefroy stole away to contest a photo finish in Berg en Terblijt.
Van der Poel did his share of chasing attacks over the final mini circuit that took in the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg, but would eventually end up in fourth place, 20 seconds off the dramatic finish. After the race, he said that fighting against the strength of Ineos Grenadiers, who had Tom Pidcock in the chase group, was always going to be hard.
"I knew they would be dangerous," he said. "If I had caught Kwiatkowski back then Pidcock would jump away.
"For sure I'm really happy with the team today, but if I have one teammate at the end, I can play a different game like they did. But of course, that's the strength of team like Ineos. If we have two guys in front, then I can win the race. It's a bit difficult but onto the next."
Kwiatkowski had jumped away after a Pidcock attack on the final descent off the Cauberg, the Pole turning a stealth attack on the finish straight at 22km to go into a full-blown solo move.
Cosnefroy joined him in the lead a handful of kilometres later, and the race was won despite attacks from the chase coming from Pidcock, Dylan Teuns, Kasper Asgree, among others.
Van der Poel added that he simply wasn't able to respond to every move that his rivals made in the final kilometres of the 254km race. He chased down several moves, drove the group on himself, and made his own big attack at 2km to go, but it wasn't enough to win the race again.
"It was a bit difficult," he said. "It's a matter of the decisions you make, and I think I didn't have the legs to react or respond to every attack.
"In the end I was where I needed to be, but in a race like this you have to be really on top form, especially when you're in the lead group and have to react to everyone's attacks. You have to make your choices. That wasn't me today. I was good, but even if you're on top form it's very hard to win a race like this."
It has been less than a month since Van der Poel made a surprise early comeback from long-running rehabilitation to a lingering back injury at Milan-San Remo. He's won three times since then, including last week's Tour of Flanders, where he outfoxed Tadej Pogačar despite seeming to be the second-strongest man in the race.
He admitted after Amstel Gold Race that he had taken time to recover from that race, his second victory at De Ronde, adding that the race – in terms of competition and parcours – was incomparable to Flanders.
"Admittedly, there was some decompression after my win in Flanders," he said. "I had to recharge for this race. Hopefully I'll be at 100 per cent at Paris-Roubaix next week.
"This has been a different race against different riders. Today, this was the best we could've achieved."
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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. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.