The final kilometres of the race saw the 24-year old single-handedly led a chase group up to the leaders, bridging a one-minute gap to make the catch in the final 500 metres. He then powered past everybody in the closing metres to take the biggest win of his career so far.
It was a barely believable scenario for spectators, but also for Van der Poel himself, who could hardly raise his arms in celebration as he crossed the line.
“I didn’t even have the energy to put my hands in the air,” he told Het Nieuwsblad after the finish. “At three kilometres from the finish, nobody could tell me in what position I was riding in this chaotic final. Not the race radio, nor the team car.
“I didn’t believe anymore that I was racing for the win. Only in the finishing straight did I see them all riding up ahead. I played it all or nothing and it became everything.”
It’s another chapter in an incredible spring classics debut for Van der Poel. He had already mastered cyclo-cross, and then some. Racing on the road is another matter entirely, but with genes likes his – Adri is his father, Raymond Poulidor his grandfather – his follow up to last season’s glimpses of potential has been, to an extent, predictable.
Wins at the GP Denain, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl have been supplemented by fourth places at Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. It’s been a phenomenal campaign, now capped with this special victory at the Netherlands’ biggest race.
“It rarely happens to me that I don’t realise the impact a victory will have,” he said. “Dwars door Vlaanderen, Brabantse Pijl and now the most special of all. I fall from one surprise to another.
“I had bad moments too, I’m sure. At the beginning of the race I didn’t even feel well at all; I think it had to do with the heat. When we accelerated in the peloton, I suddenly saw big names [such as Sagan] just parking.
“I hoped this could break open the race before the Kruisberg. – I knew it was a crucial point. I wanted to make sure I got over it in front. I got away with that guy from Astana [Gorka Izagirre] but he wouldn’t work.”
Several kilometres after Van der Poel’s attack was brought back, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) went away in what looked to be, as the kilometres ticked by, the race-winning move.
Even heading into the final two or three kilometres, the 2019 Amstel Gold Race appeared to be a two-horse race. But first Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) made the bridge, and then the Van der Poel group came almost from nowhere to get across in the final kilometre before he launched for the line.
“I wanted to sprint for the podium or a place of honour. I felt that I still had good legs,” he continued. “When I reached the finishing straight, I saw the leaders 100 metres ahead of me. I started sprinting at 400 metres from the line; I tried to surprise them.
“I was incredibly lucky that the wind was at the back. This allowed me to keep my speed to the line. It was lucky that we came back anyway, but winning the Amstel Gold Race as a debutant? I have no words for it.”
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