Exhibits for big occasions. The boasts at just the right time. Surprises when no one expects them. The objectives above all things. This has been understood like few others by Mathieu van der Poel, a cyclist who can win in many races but who has decided to win especially in the ones he really wants. Member of a generation that dazzles and shines throughout the season, the Dutchman has become a gourmet. He is crazy about exquisite victories. He prefers quality to quantity. And there is no more luxurious setting in cycling than the finish line of Via Roma in Sanremo, where Van der Poel deployed alone, more beautiful than ever.
In his day, he got in between his eyebrows to be the leader of the Tour and in his debut in 2021, on the second day, he already took the yellow jersey, a garment that his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, never wore. He also has two Tour of Flanders, normal for someone who was born in Kapellen. And the Dutchman, five times world champion in cyclocross, did not want to retire without success in Milan-Sanremo. He was very clear. Another check on his career. Another nod to his grandfather, who won it in 1961. 62 years later his grandson got it.
Van der Poel got closer little by little. Thirteenth in his debut in 2020, the only time he has run a monument and has not made a top-10. Fifth two years ago. Third last year. Perhaps seeing Mohoric go down, he came up with the plan for this 2023. And since the Cyclocross World Cup he fine-tuned his set-up. “Since I started training on the road this year I was focused on this race. He had her marked to win. Everyone knows that I wanted to win it. How I have done it has been to remember ”, he confessed. "It's very, very special."
To outline his strategy, the Alpecin star did not spend more than necessary in the recent Tirreno-Adriatico. He didn't win any stage, he didn't even try. The Dutchman did not shine as usual, but he chose to become the best pitcher in the world. In two sprints he positioned and set up the finish for his teammate, sprinter Philipsen. And twice the sprinter won, to which Van der Poel served the victories on a silver platter.
But in the Classicissima he was the supreme leader of the team, without a doubt. So Kragh Andersen protected him and took him well placed in La Cipressa, where Pogacar's UAE set the pace but did not go too far. And when the Slovenian attacked at the Poggio he was fresh to respond.
Pogacar, the Italian Ganna, the Belgian Van Aert and Van der Poel left. Perhaps the rest were already thinking about the descent, he surprised them with a demarcation with 5.5 kilometers to go. The attack was not to enter the descent first but was very serious. He left and didn't look back. “The Cipressa has not been so hard but I have felt good. The place was at the top of the Poggio ”, he recounted. While the pursuers seemed to leave the weight to Van Aert, his eternal rival.
“I haven't taken many risks on the descent. He had the legs to win as a group too", he explained at the finish line, where all the other favorites came to congratulate him and acknowledge his greatness: Pogacar -fourth-, Alaphilippe, Girmay... He is only the fourth Dutchman to raise his arms in San Remo . Den Hartog won in the 1960s, Jan Ras in the 1970s and Kuiper in the 1980s. One per decade. Then nothing until this Saturday: Van der Poel already has the spring World Cup.