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Van der Poel was a surprise last-minute call-up to the Alpecin-Fenix team after several riders were ruled out through illness. The 27-year-old hasn’t raced on the road since Paris-Roubaix last autumn and has been recovering from a longstanding back injury over the winter and into the early spring.
He was set to make a comeback later this month in Italy at Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali but his team decided to give Van der Poel the option of fast-tracking his return.
“Two days ago I came home from training and I had a few missed calls from the team,” van der Poel said on the start line of Milan-San Remo.
“Gianni Vermeersch got sick and we also lost Rob Stannard this morning who is also sick. They asked me if I wanted to replace them and it was a difficult decision because normally I was going to start again in Coppi but after a while I decided to come here with no pressure and see what I can do,” he added.
It’s unclear how far van der Poel can go in the race given the amount of competitive time that he has missed in the last few months. While his training has progressed, and he hasn’t fallen ill with the current bouts of flu and cold that have swept through the peloton, he hasn’t tested himself in a race.
Milan-San Remo, at just under 300km, isn’t exactly a training ride, although it’s certainly conceivable that van den Poel can make it to the foot of the Cipressa and then see how fresh he still feels.
According to the rider, he enters the race with little in the way of pressure or expectation, and while his back still gives him some problems it’s significantly better than it was previously.
“It’s a question mark for me as well,” he said when asked about his race predictions.
“I feel pretty good in training but training isn’t racing so for me I’ll see how I feel in the end. I have a free role and we’ll see how the race develops. The back is okay. Sometimes after hard training I still feel something but on the bike it’s quite OK. I hope that it stay ok and that it develops in a positive way.”