Mathieu Van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) shook his head in disbelief as he crossed the finish line, and so did everyone watching. The simple fact is that the Dutchman won the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. Quite how he did so is another matter entirely.
Van der Poel, wearing the Dutch national champion’s jersey on his Amstel debut, was dead and buried with seven kilometers to go. He’d attacked from the main chase group with a handful of others but, a minute down on leaders Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), it looked like any chance of victory had sailed.
However, in a remarkable finale - surely the most thrilling in the race’s 54-year history - the Dutchman dragged that small group back up to those chasing in between and then to the front of the race with just 300 metres to go. He hadn’t quite made the junction when Alaphilippe started sprinting but, after swooping left onto Fuglsang’s wheel, he ripped out to the right and moved clear to take a sensational victory.
It is the third in what has been an extraordinary debut spring Classics campaign for the cyclo-cross world champion. Victories at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl - not to mention fourth at the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem - were one thing. This was another. It was a bigger race, a longer race, with a deeper field, and then there was just the mind-bending manner of it.
“I can’t believe it," Van der Poel said. "I didn’t believe I could win. I didn’t expect that at all. I still can't understand what has happened."
Simon Clarke (EF Education First) finished second, having been one of the riders caught by Van der Poel’s advancing group in the closing kilometers, while Fuglsang hung on for third place.
Alaphilippe, winner of Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo already this spring, finished a dejected fourth and will be kicking himself, having been well and truly in the driving seat. Indeed, while it was Van der Poel who launched the first big attack of this Amstel Gold Race on the Guiperberg with 44km to go, it was Alaphilippe who triggered the decisive selection soon after.
The Frenchman forced a small split with Fuglsang, Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and teammate Dried Devenyns on the following climb of the Kruisberg, before attacking himself on the Eyserbosweg with 37km to go. Fuglsang set off in pursuit and the duo would spend the next 35 kilometers together at the front of the race, in what bore shades of last month’s Strade Bianche.
They collaborated well to hold off Trentin and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) - who’d attacked to bridge to the Italian - but their alliance waned in the closing kilometers. Fuglsang, who’d failed to drop Alaphilippe on the final climb of the Bemeleberg with just under 7km to go, sensed he’d be picked off in a sprint and so decided to sit in and stop contributing. Alaphilippe dropped the pace and the gap began to fall.
It was not so surprising, then, to see Kwiatkowski, who had dropped Trentin on the Bemeleberg, come back into the picture inside the final kilometre. No one, however, saw Van der Poel coming.
The Dutchman attacked from the main chase group ahead of the Bemelemberg, when they were half a minute behind Kwiatkowski and just under a minute behind the leading duo. He attacked with Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal), Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) and Michael Schar (CCC) and they linked up with Romain Bardet (AG2R LA Mondiale), who’d gone shortly before.
With just over two kilometres to go they reached Clarke and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and shortly after Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), all of whom had attacked over the Cauberg with 16km to go. The dropped Trentin was with Schachmann at that point and that newly-formed group of nine somehow managed to come back into the picture in the final kilometre.
As they came into the home straight, Alaphilippe, Fuglsang, and Kwiatkowski looked nervously over their shoulders. They saw Van der Poel on the front of the group, the gap getting closer and closer. It was high drama. Alaphilippe decided to jump from range, but it wasn’t enough. Van der Poel’s sprint was emphatic in and of itself. When you consider he’d just done the lion’s share of the work to plug that seemingly insurmountable gap - not to mention his attack from 44km out - it was nothing short of breathtaking.
How it unfolded
The riders set off from the centre of Maastricht under blue skies and sunshine, with temperatures of 20 degrees. For all the drama in the finale, it was a calm, quiet affair for the first few hours. The day’s breakaway formed after the Lange Raarberg, the third of the 35 punchy climbs on the 265.7km route in the Limburg region of south-western Holland.
In there were Michael Schär (CCC Team), Nick van der Lijke, (Roompot-Charles), Paolo Simion (Bardiani-CSF), Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Thomas Sprengers (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), Aaron Verwilst (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), Grega Bole (Bahrain-Merida), Jimmy Janssens (Corendon-Circus). They were soon joined by Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Cycling Academy), and later by the Wanty-Gobert duo of Marco Minnaard and Jerome Baugnies to make it 11.
They built a lead of eight minutes before Fuglsang’s Astana team - who would later lose Alexey Lutsenko to a crash - set about upping the pace in the peloton. Things really started to intensify as they reached the Cauberg and the finish line for the second time with 85km to go. The iconic climb - formerly the last key test - would appear once more, but the new finale that has been in place since 2017 would take the riders over the Guelhemmerberg and Bemeleberg on one extra loop.
The break had been brought back to just one minute when Van der Poel launched his first roll of the dice, bursting clear on the Guiperberg, the 28th climb and the first in a crucial condensed stretch with just over 40km to go. Gorka Izaguirre (Astana) managed to go with him as the peloton fragmented behind, but refused to collaborate, and it wasn’t long before they were back in the main bunch.
On the next climb, there was a successful attack. More by stealth, Devenyns hit the front with Alaphilippe on the wheel and a gap opened. Trentin and Fuglsang were alive to it but the rest of the field were caught behind. Those four soon caught the breakaway before Alaphilippe, almost led out by Devenyns, attacked alone on the Eyserbosweg. Fuglsang responded and joined up with him on the other side.
Kwiatkowski then attacked with Michael Woods (EF) and joined Trentin in a three-man chase, though Woods was dropped on the viciously steep Keutenberg - the fourth-to-last climb - with 28km to go. The main group was already well thinned out by this point, the notable absentees being Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), who were caught in another group a minute behind. Peter Sagan had already been dropped well before, so there would be no redemption in what has been a trying spring campaign for the three-time world champion.
Alaphilippe and Fuglsang reached the foot of the Cauberg with 19 seconds on Kwiatkowski and Trentin. The main chase group were led by EF but had slipped to 55 seconds. Despite attacks from that group on the Cauberg, the main moves came beyond the summit, through the finishing straight as the bell rang. Schachmann, who had attacked on the Keutenberg, went again and set about hunting down Trentin, taking all manner of risks on the winding roads. Mollema and Clarke formed another duo a little further back.
Alaphilippe and Fuglsang began to look at each other on the Guelhemmerberg and their lead dropped to 12 seconds as Kwiatkowski rode away from Trentin, who made it back on beyond the summit. The leading duo then began to work well again, and they seemed certain to go to the finish together, opening 30 seconds on the two chasers and just under a minute on the rest of the field.
Fuglsang launched an attack on the final climb of the Bemeleberg with just under 6km to go but couldn’t shake Alaphilippe. From then on, he gambled and refused to collaborate, and that’s when the gap started to come down. Kwiatkowski dropped Trentin on the Bemeleberg and dragged himself back into contention under the flamme rouge. That would have been dramatic enough, but what happened next took it to another level. Van der Poel’s group, ignored by the TV cameras, came roaring back into view in the home straight.
The Dutchman, undoubtedly now one of the biggest stars in world cycling, then finished off a race that will live long in the memory.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mathieu Van Der Poel (Ned) Corendon - Circus||6:28:18|
|2||Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First||0|
|3||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||0|
|4||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick - Step||0|
|5||Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora - Hansgrohe||0|
|6||Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0|
|7||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) CCC Team||0|
|8||Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama - FDJ||0|
|9||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0|
|10||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton - Scott|
|11||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky||0:00:02|
|12||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek - Segafredo|
|13||Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:46|
|14||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team|
|15||Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton - Scott||0:00:54|
|16||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|17||Jay Mc Carthy (Aus) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|18||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Dimension Data|
|19||Dion Smith (NZl) Mitchelton - Scott|
|20||Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Israel Cycling Academy|
|21||Robert Gesink (Ned) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|22||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|23||Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek - Segafredo|
|24||Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Cycling Academy|
|25||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|26||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|27||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
|28||Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|29||Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) UAE Team Emirates|
|30||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick - Step|
|31||Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky|
|32||Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama - FDJ|
|33||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick - Step||0:04:02|
|34||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Israel Cycling Academy||0:04:19|
|35||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Corendon - Circus|
|36||Nathan Haas (Aus) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|37||Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain - Merida|
|38||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|39||Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|40||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|41||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Team Dimension Data|
|42||Huub Duijn (Ned) Roompot - Charles|
|43||Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|44||Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Roompot - Charles|
|45||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain - Merida|
|46||Lawrence Warbasse (USA) AG2R La Mondiale|
|47||Paul Martens (Ger) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|48||Nick Van Der Lijke (Ned) Roompot - Charles|
|49||Patrick Müller (Swi) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|50||Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|51||Marcel Meisen (Ger) Corendon - Circus|
|52||Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Team Dimension Data|
|53||Marc Hirschi (Swi) Team Sunweb|
|54||Serge Pauwels (Bel) CCC Team|
|55||Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|56||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|57||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|58||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal|
|59||Michael Albasini (Swi) Mitchelton - Scott|
|60||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|61||G Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First|
|62||Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|63||Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain - Merida|
|64||Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|65||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team|
|66||Diego Rosa (Ita) Team Sky|
|67||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|68||Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain - Merida|
|69||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First||0:07:53|
|70||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain - Merida|
|71||Logan Owen (USA) EF Education First|
|72||Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First|
|73||Dennis Van Winden (Ned) Israel Cycling Academy|
|74||Quentin Pacher (Fra) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|75||Floris De Tier (Bel) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|76||Mathias De Witte (Bel) Roompot - Charles|
|77||Simone Petilli (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|78||Carlos Barbero (Spa) Movistar Team|
|79||Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek - Segafredo|
|80||Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky|
|81||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team|
|82||Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|83||Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Team Dimension Data|
|84||Jimmy Janssens (Bel) Corendon - Circus|
|85||Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|86||Pieter Weening (Ned) Roompot - Charles|
|87||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton - Scott||0:07:56|
|88||Michael Schär (Swi) CCC Team||0:09:12|
|89||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek - Segafredo|
|90||Mikkel Frølich Honoré (Den) Deceuninck - Quick - Step||0:10:59|
|91||Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama - FDJ||0:11:17|
|92||Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
|93||Clément Chevrier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|94||Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
|95||Julien Vermote (Bel) Team Dimension Data|
|96||August Jensen (Nor) Israel Cycling Academy|
|97||Oscar Riesebeek (Ned) Roompot - Charles|
|98||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Corendon - Circus|
|99||Kevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|100||Edward Dunbar (Irl) Team Sky|
|101||Jerome Baugnies (Bel) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
|102||Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|103||Rick Zabel (Ger) Team Katusha Alpecin||0:13:09|
|104||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek - Segafredo||0:13:39|
|105||Nicholas Schultz (Aus) Mitchelton - Scott||0:15:41|
|106||Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky|
|107||Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Movistar Team|
|108||Lennard Kämna (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|109||Enrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Lars Bak Ytting (Den) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton - Scott|
|DNF||Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Bahrain - Merida|
|DNF||Jan Tratnik (Slo) Bahrain - Merida|
|DNF||Omar Fraile Matarranz (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Patrick Bevin (NZl) CCC Team|
|DNF||Jonas Koch (Ger) CCC Team|
|DNF||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) CCC Team|
|DNF||Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick - Step|
|DNF||Pieter Serry (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick - Step|
|DNF||Petr Vakoč (Cze) Deceuninck - Quick - Step|
|DNF||Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First|
|DNF||Sean Bennett (USA) EF Education First|
|DNF||Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Groupama - FDJ|
|DNF||Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) Groupama - FDJ|
|DNF||Léo Vincent (Fra) Groupama - FDJ|
|DNF||William Bonnet (Fra) Groupama - FDJ|
|DNF||Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Jaime Castrillo Zapater (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Jos Van Emden (Ned) Team Jumbo - Visma|
|DNF||Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Willem Jakobus Smit (RSA) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Dmitrii Strakhov (Rus) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||David De La Cruz Melgarejo (Spa) Team Sky|
|DNF||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Koen De Kort (Ned) Trek - Segafredo|
|DNF||Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek - Segafredo|
|DNF||Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Edward Ravasi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|DNF||Otto Vergaerde (Bel) Corendon - Circus|
|DNF||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) Corendon - Circus|
|DNF||Lars Boom (Ned) Roompot - Charles|
|DNF||Vincenzo Albanese (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Paolo Simion (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Alessandro Pessot (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Alessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Mirco Maestri (Ita) Bardiani Csf|
|DNF||Clément Carisey (Fra) Israel Cycling Academy|
|DNF||Roy Goldstein (Isr) Israel Cycling Academy|
|DNF||Benjamin Declercq (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|DNF||Emiel Planckaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|DNF||Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|DNF||Aaron Verwilst (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|DNF||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|DNF||Kevin Reza (Fra) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|DNF||Corentin Ermenault (Fra) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|DNF||Arnaud Courteille (Fra) Vital Concept - B&B Hotels|
|DNF||Wesley Kreder (Ned) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
|DNF||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team|
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