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Brabantse Pijl: Van der Poel out-sprints Alaphilippe

Mathieu van der Poel stuns the WorldTour heavies by winning out of a select group of one-day stars, carrying strong form into Amstel Gold.

Mathieu van der Poel’s standout spring season continued Wednesday with a victory in Brabantse Pijl ahead of this season’s Milano-Sanremo winner Julian Alaphilippe.

Corendon-Circus’s world cyclocross champion van der Poel won the sprint from a group of four at the end of the 196.2km race from Leuven to Overijse, Belgium. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) was third in the hilly midweek race that serves as a transition between the cobbled Flanders classics and the hilly Ardennes, which begin in earnest at Amstel Gold Race Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who has eight wins to his credit so far in 2019, kicked off the action with 18 kilometers to go on the Herstraat climb. Wellens and van der Poel followed, as did Michael Matthews (Sunweb).

“Over the top of the climb we were five riders, and I rode full gas to help this move go all the way to the line,” Alaphilippe said.

They soon caught Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), who had attacked at the start of the last of four local laps.

“I wanted to wait until the final lap to join an attack,” said Wellens. “I mainly focused on van der Poel and Alaphilippe. When the latter attacked, I was able to follow pretty quickly. Van der Poel and Matthews joined and those were the names that had also been suggested in advance.”

Despite crashing and abandoning last week’s Tour of the Basque Country after stage 3, Alaphilippe was on fine form Wednesday. He persistently drove the pace in the breakaway, as did Wellens.

“I knew I was not the fastest rider of our group, so I had to come up with something,” Wellens added. “I tried to break clear several times, but I soon realized that it would be too difficult.”

Just before the final 10 kilometers, Impey was dropped due to the incessant accelerations.

“When the favorites caught me I was still feeling good but Wellens hurt me with his attack and I never recovered from my effort before, I was solo for quite some time,” said Impey. “It was a shame as I was where I needed to be and left the race with not much to show for my efforts. That being said I feel confident and mentally I ticked a few boxes for myself and assured myself that I am ready for the new races.”

The four leaders held a lead of about 20 seconds, which would prove to be enough to stay away for the sprint.

“I put the crash behind me to come here,” said Alaphilippe. “I’m trying to return to my best level for the next three races. Today was a good test. I’m happy to have finished with the front group.

The French star will be a favorite at Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone in a week’s time, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 28.

Van der Poel will also head to Amstel with ambitions to win his third major one-day race of the spring, following Brabantse Pijl and Dwars door Vlaanderen, two weeks ago. After Amstel, he’ll put his road bike away and focus on the World Cup mountain bike season with plans to vie for a medal in Tokyo next year.