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This story appeared in the November/December print issue of VeloNews Magazine.
Anytime Mathieu van der Poel throws his leg over a bike, something exciting happens. Even among his winning exploits this season, which included a host of cyclocross, mountain bike, and road races, one victory stood out: Amstel Gold Race. It will live on as one of the most exhilarating finales in a spring classic in decades.
After trailing by one minute with three kilometers remaining, the Dutch national road champion and reigning cyclocross world champion, van der Poel, in his Amstel Gold Race debut, single-handedly dragged a chase group back into contention, and then launched a 400-meter-long sprint to improbably catch and pass Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang with just 125 meters remaining. Though there were riders sitting in his draft for what seemed like miles, no one could come around him.
The 24-year-old crossed the line with a hand on his helmet, shook his head in disbelief, then promptly collapsed to the ground in a state of ecstasy and exhaustion.
Eurosport commentators Matt Stephens and Rob Hatch, calling the race, wavered between speechlessness and astonishment.
“That was one of the most incredible wins you are ever likely to see in the history of professional cycling,” Hatch said, without a hint of hyperbole.
Van der Poel initially seemed as perplexed at his victory as everyone else, though he later succinctly described his day: “I played it all or nothing, and it became everything.”