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Van der Poel on Il Lombardia: ‘I need to suffer as much as possible’

The Alpecin-Fenix rider looks to help his teammates in the season's second monument, and build his own form in doing so.

On the heels of a third-place finish at Gran Piemonte on Wednesday, Mathieu van der Poel on Friday said he is looking forward to suffering his way into top shape on Saturday at Il Lombardia.

“It’s a pretty special race,” the Alpecin-Fenix rider said of the hilly Italian monument. “It’s not what suits me the most, but I am looking forward to it. It puts me out of my comfort zone, and that’s something I need right now. Also in Piemonte on the last climb, I suffered a lot, but it’s the only way to get better. So for me, it’s really important to do the race, and to suffer as much as possible to get that extra few percent that I need to be in top shape.”

Since racing resumed in recent weeks, the 25-year-old rider has had a string of top-15 finishes. He placed 13th place last weekend at Milan-Sanremo after leading the chase of his old cyclocross rival and eventual winner Wout van Aert.

Van der Poel finished 15th at Strade Bianche and 13th and Milano-Torino.

His third-place at Gran Piemonte was the best since racing resumed.

“Of course is not a classic race,” van der Poel said of Gran Piemonte, “but there were some big names again in the front. Everyone is really eager to race and I was there, so it was not bad to be on the podium.”

Van der Poel finished behind George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Diego Ulissi (UAE-Team Emirates) at Gran Piemnote on a course that didn’t suit his larger frame.

“It was fun to do the finale again. The race didn’t suit me 100 percent. The pace was hard all day on the climbs, and I’m not really a climber, so I think it was a good race for me,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to be satisfied if I’m not winning, but I’m getting there step by step, and I hope to get there soon.”

Come Saturday at Il Lombardia, van der Poel is not expecting to stand on the top step, either.

“Everyone knows that the climbs are just too hard for me against the real climbers, so it will be almost impossible to win the race, but maybe on a really good day I can help my teammates,” he said.

And perhaps those efforts at Il Lombardia Saturday will help propel van der Poel into the form he needs to get a win soon in cycling’s ultra-condensed 2020 season.