Mathieu van der Poel has suggested he can hold the form that gave him victory at Strade Bianche for another month, making him the rider to beat at Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, the Tour of Flanders and even Paris-Roubaix.
The Dutchman won his fourth cyclo-cross world title at the end of January but has built a solid road racing endurance base below his high-end cyclo-cross fitness to create an impressive spring peak of form. Everyone else will have to up their game and improve their form if they want to beat the Alpecin-Fenix rider.
“My form is already good. I think I can hold this for a month,” Van der Poel said after winning Strade Bianche. “I pushed myself to be ready for today and I think the result speaks for itself. I felt pretty good all race and so I was happy to finish it off.”
Van der Poel’s superb form helped him make the key selection at Strade Bianche with 50km to race, then distance eternal rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on the final dirt sector with 12km to go and surge away from Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) on the final climb to the finish in Siena.
He almost missed the selection on the Monte Sante Marie section, only moving up with a late acceleration. However, he seemed to be in control of his race and his rivals.
“I felt good but I knew I had to save myself for the finale because I knew there were some hard sectors to come. I knew I had to wait for the right moment to try to win the race,” he explained, revealing Alaphilippe had virtually conceded defeat before the final climb.
“I think Julian was a bit tired at the end, he told me as well, that his legs weren’t that good anymore. Normally he always rides full gas with us but he skipped some turns so I knew that he was not lying.
“Egan Bernal made a good impression on the uphill sections but I knew the last section was really something for me. I felt strong but you’re never sure when you go up against two of the strongest riders in the world in the finish.”
Van der Poel punched the air in celebration several times as he finished in Siena’s Piazza il Campo. He added Strade Bianche to his victory at last year’s Tour of Flanders and his win on home roads at the Amstel Gold Race in 2019.
He said he is not interested in winning all the so-called Monument Classics but winning Strade Bianche against the world champion, his Classics rivals and past Tour de France winners made it extra special.
“With all those top riders at the start, this race is one of the most difficult to win,” Van der Poel said.
“If you looked at the breakaway of eight that drove away after the Sante Marie sector, half of them are not at the start in the Belgian classics. In this race, all top riders compete against each other, including winners of Grand Tours such as Bernal and Pogačar. The fact that I can beat them in a direct fight gives this victory extra value.”
Van der Poel generously praised his Alpecin-Fenix teammates for helping him at Strade Bianche. He was alone in the finale but his teammates protected him in the early part of the race, with Philipp Walsleben in the early attack and then Gianni Vermeersch in a counter-attack.
Van der Poel beat his chest when Tim Merlier won Le Samyn on Tuesday, apparently happy to defeat Classics rivals Deceuninck-QuickStep, who had chased him down at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
“We all know we have a strong team and we showed it today,” he said. “I’m really happy with the teamwork today and I’m really happy to finish it off.”
Van der Poel and Alpecin-Fenix will now stay in Tuscany to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, which begins in Camaiore, north of Pisa on Wednesday.
He played down any specific goals for the Race of the Two Seas. He is just taking one big goal at a time, with the aim of being strong and successful all the way until Paris-Roubaix on April 11.