The Dutchman's final test before next Sunday's road race – his first at senior level – didn't end with a dominant or astonishing performance as we have seen from him on numerous occasions throughout 2019, but the 24-year-old was happy with how the 197km race went.
"I was able to test my legs and it felt good," he told Het Laatste Nieuws after the race, adding that the semi-classic, plus a training session afterwards "was just a matter of getting the distance in the legs."
At 285km, the Worlds road race will be the longest Van der Poel has ever taken part in. Despite the bulk of his career so far being largely focussed on the hour-long blast of cyclo-cross races, Van der Poel has made his transition to the monster lengths of the Classics seem easy.
Last year he won the Dutch National Championships (222km) and took second at the European Championships road race (230km), while 2019 has seen him win Amstel Gold Race (266km) and take fourth at Gent-Wevelgem (250km) and the Tour of Flanders (267km).
The extra kilometres tacked on the end of a tough course in Yorkshire could make all the difference though, with the sheer length a venture into the unknown for first timers. Van der Poel is as prepared as any debutant can be though – after racing for 197km, he went for a 100km training ride behind a moped driven by team manager Christoph Roodhooft.
"I think it's important to ride once in the region of 300 kilometres," he said. "I didn't get that at the Tour of Britain. This was the ideal day for it, and it's how I did it for the Classics."
Van der Poel didn't contest the sprint at the Primus Classic, where Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) staved off sprinters like Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) with a late attack. Instead he finished safely towards the front of the peloton in 19th, perhaps avoiding the post-race obligations that would come with a podium spot.
"I wasn't very well positioned," he explained of the finish. "And anyway, if the race isn't difficult enough, I'm normally not the fastest at this type of finish. I just crossed the line quietly."
He was front and centre earlier on in the race though, putting in an attack with 45km to go on the cobbled Moskensstraat climb. It was only a 500-metre hill at 7.2 per cent gradient, but despite the short length there was an ominous sign for next week's road race.
With Van der Poel accelerating, Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) jumped onto his wheel. It's far from the easiest task in world cycling, and it showed for the Belgian and Slovakian, who will be among the leading competitors in Yorkshire.
Both men just about managed to hang on, cresting the summit several bike lengths back. They were the only pair who managed to stay so close but didn't quite look on the same level of form as Van der Poel.
"After that it was a little more possible [to stay away], but the collaboration didn't begin quickly enough," he said of the move.
"Suddenly, we were back together again. It's a pity the course eased a bit after, otherwise it might have been something for others to worry about.
"I have tested the legs. That felt good [and] I stayed out of trouble. That's always good. And I had fun, so that's all good."
.@mathieuvdpoel's attack on Moskesstraat #PrimusClassic pic.twitter.com/aEYtv7EW58September 21, 2019
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