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All eyes on van der Poel ahead of Amstel Gold

Sunday is the last chance for road fans to see Mathieu van der Poel mix it up at the front, and he's expected to put on a show at Amstel Gold Race.

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Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) concludes his road-racing rampage Sunday at Amstel Gold Race. After ripping through the spring classics and leaving everyone agog, van der Poel starts as the red-hot favorite for the Dutch classic.

“I’m a favorite, OK, but not the only one,” van der Poel said in a press conference Thursday. “There are a lot of riders who’ve proven more than me.”

Van der Poel, 24, hopes to conclude his spring road racing campaign with another “W” in what’s been an astonishing run across the northern classics, but said he’s not the only favorite Sunday.

“[Greg] Van Avermaet is also good on this type of course,” he said. “[Philippe] Gilbert has made an impression again in Paris-Roubaix. Add to that the climbers of Astana and Movistar and you know there are a lot of contenders.”

A chance to race Amstel Gold in the Dutch national champion’s jersey is an ideal way to end his entrée into the WorldTour that’s seen him dominate in ways no one expected when the cyclocross world champion decided to dip his toe into the cobblestoned classics for the first time.

“The results this spring are beyond expectations,” van der Poel said. “I had hoped to be in the final in one race. But to be so close in every race is beyond what I could have dreamed.”

Van der Poel’s run across the northern classics is impressive by any measure. He’s won three races and finished fourth twice in six starts in one-days. In two stage races this spring — Tour de Antalya and Circuit de la Sarthe — he won one stage in each.

After winning Brabantse Pijl out of an elite breakaway group of four riders Wednesday, van der Poel wants to close out his spring road campaign on a high. He cautioned, however, that his inexperience and bulkier build could be a handicap Sunday on the hilly and technical Amstel Gold Race across the narrow and sharp hills of the Netherlands’ Limburg region

“[Julian] Alaphilippe is climbing very fast, and Amstel Gold has even more climbing,” he said. “When those 60kg riders fly up the hills, you feel it. I’m not the smallest guy in the bunch. I hope that deep in the race, climbing becomes less important and the depth comes up.”

Just as fast, van der Poel said he knows the roads well in the Limburg. Amstel Gold’s long distance at 265.7km means the harder race will favor him against purely explosive climbers.

“This is where I started training and spent a lot of my youth riding these roads,” he said. “With the new course design, it’s a more open race. The decisive moment can come at any time. Let’s see who is ready to race.”

Sunday will be the last chance for road cycling fans to see van der Poel in action, at least for the foreseeable future. After Amstel Gold, he will take a break and hop on the fat tires. He’s set to race mountain biking’s World Cup season and take aim at the world mountain biking championships, so it’s unlikely he will race on pavement again this season.