Mathieu van der Poel (Correndon-Circus) took his fourth win of 2019 and checked off another box on his rapidly growing road resume Wednesday at Brabantse Pijl, beating recent Monument winner Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in a four-up sprint in Overijse, Belgium.
"I knew I had a chance in the sprint, but you're never sure," Van der Poel said. "I chose to turn on from the front, so I wouldn't get trapped and be able to ride my own sprint. When I started, I felt that I would be able to continue to the finish line.
"The region is familiar territory to me," he said. "As a young rider, I have ridden here a few times already. So I knew that I could manage the Schavei. The rest of the race was harder than expected. My race was already successful when I could slip along with the favourites. That I could still win De Brabantse Pijl is the icing on the cake."
Van der Poel joined Alaphilippe, Tim Wellens and Team Sunweb's Michael Matthews in a group that bridged to lone escapee Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) on the final lap of three finishing circuits that included climbs over Hagaard, Hertstraat, Holstheide, Ijskelderlaan and finally Schavei.
An attack from Wellens on the Holstheide with 10km to go distanced Impey. Alaphilippe attacked over the top of the Ijskelderlaan, forcing Van der Poel to dig deep to stay with him, while Wellens and Matthews were initially dropped but clawed their way back to the leaders.
Van der Poel led the breakaway onto the final climb of the Schavei then and under the flamme rouge, where cat-and-mouse games forced a reluctant Matthews to briefly take the lead as the field was quickly closing.
Van der Poel calmly went to the front with 250 metres to go and then wound up his sprint, leaving Alaphilippe, Wellens and Matthews in his wake.
"I dared to take him to the sprint, but it was mainly his attack uphill that hurt me," Van der Poel said of Alaphilippe. "Physically, I was completely on the limit, but if you can get Alaphilippe back twice, that's mentally good. I started to believe in it.
"It's the first time I've ridden against him," Van der Poel said. "If you see what he has already done this season, you can only admire that. For me, Alaphilippe is already a legend. I know him a bit. He used to 'cross against my brother David. For me he is the best rider of the moment. So I think this victory is very important. My spring season has already been more than successful."