Van der Poel stunned a lead trio who had looked set to contend the sprint, having single-handedly dragged the chase group back into the fray.
Dutch national champion Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) took a thrilling sprint victory at Amstel Gold Race, Sunday. The Dutchman dragged a chase group back to the lead trio before launching a 400-meter sprint to beat Simon Clarke (EF Education First) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), who came second and third consecutively.
Van der Poel seemed as astonished at his victory as everyone else, commenting: “I still can’t understand what’s happened.”
With five kilometers remaining, the race looked to be coming down to a duel between Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and Fuglsang, who had gone clear with 35km to go. However, with Fuglsang sitting in as much as possible, mindful of the Frenchman’s sprint power, chaser Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) was able to latch on in the final kilometer.
Meanwhile, van der Poel had seemingly single-handedly dragged a large chase group back into contention, and the charging Dutchman had the lead trio in his sights on the long final straight. He opened his sprint with 400 meters to go, with Clarke latched to his wheel and the leaders still around 50 meters in front.
Van der Poel dodged across the road to slipstream from Fuglsang for a split second, before powering past the beleaguered lead trio in a totally unstoppable sprint. While Clarke was on his wheel much of the way, it never looked likely that the Australian would have the kick to come around such a display of power.
“I didn’t believe I could win. I didn’t expect that at all,” said van der Poel. “I felt really good and tried to anticipate a bit on the Guiperberg, but it didn’t really work out. I went full gas and hoped the leaders would start to look at each other. It’s unbelievable.”
The 267km, 35-climb race in the Limburg region of the Netherlands was the first of the three Ardennes classics.
With the breakaway caught and 45km remaining, van der Poel flashed a warning sign of his strength with an attack on the Guiperberg, at which point the action in the lead group, which still contained many of the pre-race favorites, started hotting up. He pulled Gorka Izagirre (Astana) with him, though the move didn’t stick.
After a split in the peloton caused by a crash with 36km to go, Alaphilippe attacked, pulling out Fuglsang and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott). Trentin couldn’t stick with the move however, and soon dropped back, forming a chase pair with Kwiatkowski.
In the lead pair, Fuglsang was the weaker sprinter and he knew it, looking to Alaphilippe to do as much work as possible. The Frenchman launched a few small attacks to wear down Fuglsang, but the pair remained locked together. They had a substantial gap with around 15km to go, but with the Dane’s lack of co-operation and a strong chase from Kwiatkowski, the gap started falling. With the final climb of the Cauberg done, and 2km to go, the lead pair were around 20 seconds in front of Kwiatkowski, who was now chasing solo, Trentin having dropped back.
With the finale looming, the Polish champion caught the lead pair. Though the chase group had been all-but-forgotten, they suddenly appeared seemingly from nowhere, with the white-shorted van der Poel towing them back into the fray.
And from there the incredible final throes of the race began, with it all ending in a win for the Dutch champion in front of his home crowd.