Third place at Milan-San Remo is no mean feat, and third place at Milan-San Remo in your first race of the season is almost unthinkable. But Mathieu van der Poel doesn't do just normal bike racing, and so his place on the final step of podium has left him disgruntled following what he called 'a missed chance' for victory.
Having suffered with a back injury since his crash at the Olympics mountain bike race in August 2021, Van der Poel has spent much of the winter recovering and was a late replacement in the Alpecin-Fenix line-up for Milan-San Remo.
This is also just the third time the Dutchman has raced the first Monument of the year - notoriously one of the most difficult to win - and this is his best result so far having previously finished 13th and fifth in 2020 and 2021 respectively. There was nothing he could do in the 2022 edition though to prevent Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) from soloing to victory though, with a chase group that included Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) unable to work cohesively enough to close in on the Slovenian lone-leader after he had distanced them on the descent of the Poggio.
Van der Poel was however able to outsprint the rest of the chase group for third place after Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) had clipped off the front to take second.
"I'm still disappointed," Van der Poel said. "I think from maybe the biggest favourites I won the sprint for third place. It's a shame we couldn't sprint for victory today but that's Milan-San Remo. A few times it went like this already and it's just a difficult race to win.
"We all know that Matej Mohorič can do quick descents. But I thought the group was big enough also to close the gap when we were down. I think he deserves it as well, it's strong if you can maintain a gap until the finish line."
Van der Poel bemoaned the lack of cooperation in the chase group, which aided Mohorič's escape to victory, but added he was content with the feeling of his injury which hadn't caused him any issues in the near-300km race.
"Also it was a bit of lack of cooperation," he said. "We were two riders with Pedersen and Van Aert that really tried to close the gap. We needed one or two team-mates to close it with us, but that's racing.
"I'm really happy with the feeling and I didn't have any pain in the back, so that's a positive thing about today."
Still, Van der Poel considered the situation another opportunity victory wasted, and much to the chagrin of everyone over his age of 27, said he was running out of chances to claim a historic win at the Italian Classic.
"I hope so," Van der Poel said on returning to Milan-San Remo for victory. "But I'm getting old as well, so this is a missed chance again."
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