Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) took one for the books on Wednesday, his first WorldTour race win in a fast moving career.
The 24-year-old Dutch rider, already twice cyclocross world champion, is competing in the cobbled Classics for the first time in 2019 and won the mid-week Dwars door Vlaanderen in Waregem, Belgium.
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“It’s something you remember, your first WorldTour race that you won,” van der Poel said on the significance of the victory.
“It’s always nice to win, and the feeling of winning is a little bit the same. It’s just bigger now. If you win in a small race or a bigger race, the feeling is the same.”
The signs were there. Van der Poel had just finished his longest race on Sunday, completing 251.5 kilometres and placing fourth in Ghent-Wevelgem.
“After Ghent-Wevelgem as well, I said, ‘I think I am a rider with the least amount of race days [among the road riders here],” he said. “I haven’t raced a lot. I maybe have the lower race days of all riders. Same today. I need the race kilometres to get better.”
Van der Poel made the move with experienced professionals Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), and then handled them in the sprint.
“I have done two times this distance. I knew I had a chance today,” he continued. “I was at the right place at the right moment this time when I attacked. Then I knew when we were five or six guys at the front that we were going to ride for victory.”
The race kilometres will serve him as he builds through his spring campaign, especially with his debut in the Tour of Flanders coming up on Sunday. He is not familiar with the race, only having raced the Koppenberg in his cyclocross campaign over the past winters
“Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders are completely different. I would not say I am a big favourite, but just underneath them. But I hope so,” he added.
“In Wevelgem it was still 30 kilometres to the finish line [after the last climb]. In Flanders, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg are just 20 kilometres to the finish. The group that has gone there most of the time stays gone.
“If I have the legs maybe it is possible [to get away on Paterberg] but I am not the only guy who is going to try it.”