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It’s the story that got lost on a stage with more headlines than even the biggest broadsheet newspaper could cater for.
A dry, dusty day in the Roubaix region saw Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Dutch dynamo swinging off the back and scrambling for form.
“It’s not positive. Instead of a better day, I was worse today. I am currently a shadow of myself and that is frustrating. I have no idea what it is about. I am not really ready to burn at the moment,” Van der Poel told Wielerlflits after the stage.
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Van der Poel vanished after he stomped through the Copenhagen time trial with his characteristic severity on Friday.
Working for sprinter Jasper Philipsen in the Danish road stages gave way to what he described as a rapid downward trajectory when the race reached France.
Van der Poel was way off the grid when archrival Wout van Aert rampaged into Calais for yellow jersey victory Tuesday.
Crossing the line almost four minutes back on the leaders in Porte du Hainaut at the close of stage 5 on Wednesday confirmed Van der Poel doesn’t have the dynamite legs that took him to two Paris-Roubaix top-10s and victory in the Tour of Flanders.
“In the stages in Denmark I didn’t really notice it much, but I already noticed that I wasn’t racing with surplus. If they start racing fast, it’s really on the limit for me,” Van der Poel told Wielerflits after his cobblestone aspirations crumbled Wednesday.
A bombastic three weeks of winning stages, wearing pink and making hay in the mountains at the Giro d’Italia in May left Van der Poel less than five weeks to rebound in time for the Tour.
“In the Giro d’Italia it was good, but also not excellent. I don’t know … The run-up to the Tour wasn’t very good either, except for the last week before the Tour. That was positive, but before that, it wasn’t the case,” he said.
“I haven’t reached the level I have in mind for a while. The only perspective now is to continue and hope that things will get better later.”
An on-form Van der Poel would typically be top of a book-maker’s betting slip for the kicking hilltop finish in Longwy in stage 6 on Thursday.
Van der Poel wouldn’t back himself.
“I haven’t had the desired legs since the time trial,” Van der Poel rued. “I hope it comes, otherwise it will be a long Tour.”