‘MVDP’, wearing the Dutch national champion’s jersey on his Amstel debut, was dead and buried with 7km’s to go. He’d attacked from the main chase group with a handful of others but, a minute down on leaders Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), it looked like any chance of victory was slim.
However, in a remarkable finale - surely the most thrilling in the race’s 54-year history - the Dutchman dragged that small group back up to those chasing in between and then to the front of the race with just 300 metres to go. He hadn’t quite made the junction when Alaphilippe started sprinting but, after swooping left onto Fuglsang’s wheel, he ripped out to the right and moved clear to take a sensational victory.
It is the third in what has been an extraordinary debut spring Classics campaign for the cyclo-cross world champion. Victories at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl - not to mention fourth at the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem - were one thing. This was another. It was a bigger race, a longer race, with a deeper field, and then there was just the mind-bending manner of it.
“I can’t believe it," Van der Poel said. "I didn’t believe I could win. I didn’t expect that at all. I still can't understand what has happened."
Simon Clarke (EF Education First) finished second, having been one of the riders caught by Van der Poel’s advancing group in the closing kilometers, while Fuglsang hung on for third place.
Alaphilippe, winner of Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo already this spring, finished a dejected fourth and will be kicking himself, having been well and truly in the driving seat. Indeed, while it was Van der Poel who launched the first big attack of this Amstel Gold Race on the Guiperberg with 44km to go, it was Alaphilippe who triggered the decisive selection soon after.
The Dutchman attacked from the main chase group ahead of the Bemelemberg, when they were half a minute behind Kwiatkowski and just under a minute behind the leading duo. He attacked with Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal), Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) and Michael Schar (CCC) and they linked up with Romain Bardet (AG2R LA Mondiale), who’d gone shortly before.
With just over two kilometres to go they reached Clarke and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and shortly after Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), all of whom had attacked over the Cauberg with 16km to go. The dropped Trentin was with Schachmann at that point and that newly-formed group of nine somehow managed to come back into the picture in the final kilometre.
As they came into the home straight, Alaphilippe, Fuglsang, and Kwiatkowski looked nervously over their shoulders. They saw Van der Poel on the front of the group, the gap getting closer and closer. It was high drama.
Alaphilippe decided to jump from range, but it wasn’t enough. Van der Poel’s sprint was emphatic in and of itself. When you consider he’d just done the lion’s share of the work to plug that seemingly insurmountable gap - not to mention his attack from 44km out - it was nothing short of breathtaking.
(Credits/Resources: P Fletcher / cyclingnews / EuroSport / Bettini Photos)