The Dutch superstar showed rare signs of weakness in the Belgian one-day race on Wednesday (March 31), admitting after the finish that he “didn’t have the legs.”
Despite being unsure what caused his dip in form just four days before the Tour of Flanders, the Alpecin-Fenix rider isn’t discouraged ahead of the cobbled Monument.
Speaking to cycling website Wielerflits after the finish, reigning Flanders champion Van der Poel said: “I didn’t have the legs. But I don’t draw any conclusions from that for the Tour of Flanders.
“It really wasn’t my day. Whether it was the heat? That could be it – I don’t like the heat. In any case, I had enough food and drink, that was not the problem.”
Van der Poel, 26, looked to be struggling throughout the day on Wednesday and didn’t feature in the final, as Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) rode away solo to victory.
The cyclocross world champion eventually admitted defeat and rode for his team-mate Tim Merlier, who sprinted to third place, while Van der Poel finished in 58th, 1-41 down on the winner.
But Van der Poel said he was not alone in struggling through the day, as he said world champion Julian Alaphilippe also told him he was suffering.
Looking ahead to the Tour of Flanders on Sunday (April 4), Van der Poel said: “But why should my underachievement today be a precursor to Sunday? Look at Wout Van Aert.
“He was also not top in E3 Saxo Bank Classic, but then you see him convincingly winning Ghent-Wevelgem two days later.
“It will also be less warm on Sunday than today. ”
Despite the unexpected dip in form, Van der Poel remains bookies’s favourite to repeat his 2020 Flanders victory, followed by Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step).