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Mathieu van der Poel back in the winner’s circle at Coppi e Bartali

Dutch superstar wins in bunch kick after riding in a breakaway to confirm fitness ahead of expected Tour of Flanders start.

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It didn’t take long for Mathieu van der Poel to return to the winner’s circle.

The Dutch star won stage 4 in a mass sprint at Coppi e Bartali on Friday just days after his return to competition last weekend at Milan-San Remo.

Van der Poel did it his way. He was in a long breakaway, and then regrouped for a bunch sprint after the move was neutralized by the hard-chasing GC group.

“I really didn’t expect it anymore,” he said. “I felt I had the legs to do a nice sprint. I try to never give up. I felt good today, and I enjoyed myself actually. It’s the way I like to race and I liked it.

“I had a big gap after the descent of the long climb and then I got to the leading group. It was a nice lead, but they closed it,” van der Poel said. “Then I focused on the sprint. I tried to recover a bit and I felt I still had the legs to do a good sprint.”

The Alpecin-Fenix captain kicked ahead of Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), with Rémy Mertz (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) crossing the line third in the 158.7km starting and finishing in Montecatini.

Van der Poel made a dramatic return to competition in Italy last weekend when he rode to the podium in Milan-San Remo in his first race since a forced stop due to nagging back pain over the winter.

Though team officials have yet to confirm van der Poel’s calendar, he is expected to race Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and Tour of Flanders on Sunday.