The talented 22-year-old has only raced for nine days this season after a knee injured affected his winter training and early season race programme. Instead of being an integral part of Team Sky’s Classics squad to learn for the future, he was forced to work hard in training to make up for the lost time. He made his season debut at the Nokere Koerse race in Belgium on March 17 and has ridden the Coppi e Bartali, Gent-Wevelgem and Three Days of De Panne to fast track his fitness. He will now be part of Team Sky’s squad for Paris-Roubaix.
Van Poppel showed his sprinting ability by winning a stage at the Vuelta a Espana last year before quitting Trek in anger to enjoy more freedom and opportunities at Team Sky.
An opportunity came his way at Scheldeprijs when Elia Viviani lost his wheel in the final corners of the race on the wet roads. The Italian sprinter had been given the protected role after winning stage 2 at De Panne. However he opted to miss the Tour of Flanders due to fatigue and was never amongst the sprinters in the final kilometre. He eventually finished 46th, 23 seconds back.
Knowing he had a chance, Van Poppel fought for a good wheel in the sprint and accelerated at the right time. He was fast but was slowed slightly by Britain’s Daniel McLay (Fortuneo) who was hit by a cramp, and then Van Poppel was passed by the Trek-Segafredo duo of Edward Theuns and Niccolo Bonifazio.
“It was close. I was pretty tired but I gave it a go and did the best I could,” he told Cyclingnews while holding onto the roadside barriers past the finish area as he tried to recover from his sprint effort.
“The plan was for Viviani but he was pretty far back, so I had a go. I ran out of energy and so it was too bad but I suppose it’s a god sign for me.”
"I feel strong now and don’t have any pain in my knee. It’ll take time to get back up to my level but I know that I can do it.”
Van Poppel completed the Paris-Roubaix recon with Team Sky on Tuesday and will line-up in support of Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe.
Last year he finished 45th in Paris-Roubaix, 3:24 down on winner John Degenkolb.
"I ready to suffer in the hope of reaching the finish, that is my first goal,” he said. “I would really have liked to show myself in the Classics, but I that will have to wait before another year.”
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