Mathieu van der Poel said that he "didn't have the legs to react to everybody" after an Amstel Gold Race in which he was watched constantly, and eventually had to settle for fourth.
The Alpecin-Fenix rider was clearly heavily leaned upon throughout the race, as his competitors looked to the Dutch rider to make a move. A week on from his Tour of Flanders victory, he was marked as the out-and-out favourite for the race, especially in the continued absence of Wout van Aert.
When the eventual crucial move was made by Michał Kwiatkowski, who would go on to win, and then followed by Benoît Cosnefroy, Van der Poel was forced to lead the chase behind. This was not helped by the presence of Kwiatkowski's Ineos Grenadiers teammate Tom Pidcock in that group, causing a tactical headache.
"Amstel is always a hard race, even when it’s controlled," Van der Poel said immediately post-race. "You already have all the steep climbs, so that hurts."
"The decisive move on the Keutenberg was ok, I took my own pace, was with the group, and I knew it was going to be dangerous especially with the two Ineos guys," the Dutchman continued. "It was a bit tactical and I didn’t have the legs to react to everybody. I gambled a little bit, and it didn’t work out today."
For a time it looked like there could be a repeat of the 2019 edition, where Van der Poel came from nowhere to triumph in the final hundred metres.
In the win that really launched his road career, the Dutchman dragged a whole bunch along with him in his attempt to get back to the front of the race, then sprinted from the front to victory.
However, Kwiatkowski and Cosnefroy had too much of a gap for the chasers to return, and a move by Tiesj Benoot in the final kilometre only gained him third place. Van der Poel won the sprint for fourth behind, of course.
"I’m where I want to be," the Dutchman said. "And I think Amstel is a race that doesn’t suit me as good as the Ronde, so I’m happy to be in front again, and it’s a matter of decisions to try and take the win today."
Next week he will line up at Paris-Roubaix, again with the weight of expectation hanging over him, after his brilliant form this spring, and his third place there in 2021. Describing it as "completely different", Van der Poel might well have to have a rethink of his tactics as he heads to the cobbles of northern France.
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