The Dutchman came into the first Monument of the 2021 season as the rider to beat after scintillating, recent performances in both Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. Although he was able to follow key moves on the decisive final Poggio climb, he didn’t react when Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) made his perfectly-timed acceleration with two kilometres to go off the final slopes of the Poggio.
Until that point, Van der Poel had ridden a surprisingly conservative race, choosing to follow wheels rather than attack. He held firm on the Cipressa when defending champion Wout van Aert put his Jumbo-Visma teammates on the front and then almost found himself too far back when Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) made a last-ditch attack near the summit of the Poggio.
The attacks on the final climb came later than expected, mainly because time trial World Champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) set such a blistering pace up most of the ascent. When Alaphilippe finally found the room to attack, it was so close to the summit, and on the easier section of the climb, that a number of riders were able to follow.
“I was where I was supposed to be on the Poggio,” Van der Poel said at the finish.
“I could follow the attacks of Julian and Wout there. That was good but the attacks were a bit too late, I think, and on the easiest part of the Poggio. Then it was quite a big group, when you come down there are guys from the second group who are going to attack with a lot of speed from behind and it’s very difficult to react.”
On the descent of the Poggio there was small regrouping with several riders able to make contact with the 12 riders that had created a gap on the climb.
It was at that point that Stuyven used his momentum to attack with just over two kilometres remaining. The Belgian surged off the front with no more than a 100-metre lead before Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) jumped across to make it a leading duo.
When asked if he could have reacted to Stuyven’s attack, Van der Poel indicated that his position was a factor and that the Belgian simply had the necessary power to win his first Monument.
"I don’t think so. If I try and close the gap then I’m also lost. I think that Jasper chose the right moment and was strong enough to hold it until the finish line. That makes him the deserved winner today,” the Dutch rider said.
Even inside the final 500 metres, it looked as though Stuyven would be caught, especially after Alaphilippe chased. Then Van der Poel opened up a desperate sprint from some way out. However, it wasn’t to be for the Alpecin-Fenix rider. He finished fifth.
“Like everyone says, it’s a very difficult race to win. It’s not easy to make a gap on the Poggio because the speed is so high there that it’s just too difficult to really go away alone. Then it becomes technical in the end,” he concluded before heading to the Alpecin-Fenix bus, and then eventually home to plot revenge in the cobbled Classics.
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