Mathieu van der Poel finds form right on time at Milan-San Remo: ‘Today was my best level’

Poggio recon rides and a lot of suffering send Van der Poel from mid-pack at Tirreno-Adriatico to off the front of Milan-San Remo.

Photo: POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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Never count out Mathieu van der Poel.

The Dutchman blasted back from early season mediocrity Saturday with a devastating attack that handed him Milan-San Remo victory.

“I was really focused on this race since I started training after cyclocross worlds. I knew I needed some race days to get to my best level, and I think today was my best level,” Van der Poel said at the finish.

Van der Poel’s emphatic solo down the Via Roma was the latest of his triumphs against adversity.

He won Tour of Flanders last year after months out with back problems, and lined up for this winter’s cyclocross worlds in the shadows of archrival Wout van Aert before he surged to his fifth elite rainbow jersey.

Van der Poel’s third monument title was forged in the hard kilometers and mid-pack anonymity of a Tirreno-Adriatico tuneup ride that saw him relegated out of top-contender status for Saturday’s historic race.

“I suffered a lot in the Tirreno, but it helped,” he said. “And it made me realize more and more that I have to enjoy such victories.”

Van der Poel didn’t need a dropper post, single chain ring bike, or glucose measuring contraption to conquer La Primavera.

Speaking to Sporza, Van der Poel said old-school suffering, pre-race scouting, and an all-or-nothing attack made the difference in an extra-fast, tailwind-driven final Saturday.

The 28-year-old made his winning move on the Poggio with an explosion of power that left Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert, and Filippo Ganna swinging in the brisk spring breeze.

“The Cipressa wasn’t as hard as expected and I felt very good there. Also on the Poggio, when Tadej Pogačar attacked, I still had enough to accelerate.” Van der Poel took Sporza.

“I took a risk with the attack, because if they had taken me back just before the finish, it would have been more difficult. But I’d rather lose like this than lose by not trying.”

Vincenzo Nibali and Matej Mohorič deployed daredevil descents that none could follow to win in spectacular fashion. “MVDP” opted for a more measured approach down the treacherous bends of the Poggio.

“I took few risks in the descent,” he said. “I had reconned it three times.  I would never have forgiven myself if I crashed.”

With San Remo victory, Van der Poel follows his grandfather Raymond Poulidor’s wheeltracks in winning the Italian monument, a race deemed the hardest of the calendar to win.

Unlike his illustrious relative however, Van der Poel also has two Tour of Flanders titles to his name and is one of the few active riders that could complete the rare sweep of all five monuments.

“This is one of the races I really wanted to win,” Van der Poel said at the finish. “The way I won it today is beyond expectation.”

Next up for Van der Poel? The E3 Saxo Classic, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. All of a sudden, the cycling world might be expecting a lot.

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