Mathieu van der Poel says he wouldn’t have made any changes to how he raced Milan – San Remo 2021, forced into fifth place in the reduced bunch sprint as Jasper Stuyven held off the group of favourites to win his first-ever Monument.
“I don’t think I made a mistake anywhere. I had to make choices,” Van der Poel said after the finish, Stuyven having stolen a march on the group, flying off the front with 2km to go and leaving the Dutchman and his rivals to look at each other, hesitating before picking up the chase.
With the likes of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) also amongst this final, star-studded selection, all were reticent to pick up the chase and burn their matches with the final sprint fast approaching.
It looked like they had timed their gamble well, however, as Stuyven quickly came into view in the finishing straight, but the Trek-Segafredo man’s sprint was fast enough to keep them at bay.
“I hoped to get on the wheel with a long sprint,” Van der Poel explained, “but then a few more men came over me. I was really on my limit.”
Maybe Van der Poel was slightly spent after his exploits at Tirreno-Adriatico last week, but the fast pace on the Poggio had also neutralised attacks, including one from world champion Julian Alaphilippe that only served to leave the best in the world in contention.
“When the [whittling down] took place, I was at the front. But the pace was too fast to stay away and the group was still too big. That is why it was of no use to me to accelerate even more. We had already passed the most difficult part by then,” Van der Poel said.
“It was a real gamble in the end, but I still think the strongest won. If you can maintain that pace in that phase of the race, you are the deserved winner.”
It’s easy to forget this is only Van der Poel’s second appearance at Milan – San Remo, and only the sixth Monument he’s lined up for in his career so far. With each passing edition comes more experience, and Van der Poel has La Classicissima firmly marked on his card.
He seemed to have fun over the 300km, though, at one point in the final 25km being spotted squirting water onto Sam Bennett’s disc brakes at the back of the front group, a picture of relaxation before the hectic finale.
“I would like to win Milan-San Remo. I still have a number of years, but today we see again that it is not the easiest classic to win.”