Mathieu van der Poel was left ruing what could have been after a puncture at a crucial moment thwarted any chance he may have had to take the Strade Bianche title.
The Dutchman says his 15th place finish, 10 minutes down on winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), does not reflect the race he rode.
“I lost a good result there, I think I can say that. It was the gravel section before the Santa Marie gravel section, I think the most important one. I had to dig really deep to get back there, together with Alaphilippe and a few other guys. And they all dropped at the Santa Marie section. It was so hot and we had to go over the limit to get back to the front group and then it was over,” Van der Poel said after the race.
After puncturing, team-mate Floris De Tiers sacrificed his wheel for Van der Poel, and said after the race that if the incident hadn’t happened then Alpecin-Fenix’s leader would have been up there with the front guys at the pointy end of the race. Van der Poel says it cost him but that we’ll never know if he could have beaten his Belgian cyclocross rival to take victory.
“It’s difficult to say…like I said, Alaphilippe and other good riders who bridged the gap with me also had to let go at the next gravel section. The effort I did on the gravel section to come back, I needed that effort to follow the best guys on Santa Marie and then maybe I could have gone with the first group. Flat tyres are part of the race, we’ll never know.”
Van der Poel will be racing in Italy for the foreseeable, taking part in all the August one-day races: Milano-Torino, Milan – San Remo, Gran Piemonte and Il Lombardia, before also lining up for Tirreno-Adriatico.
“For sure it’s a nice experience,” Van der Poel says of his first participation in Strade Bianche, “but I’m quite disappointed. I think at the moment I had a flat tyre I felt pretty okay…I think if you can bridge that gap then you’re not having a bad day but it was just not the right moment to be able to do the effort.
“I was at the front, especially at the crucial moments but of course it’s disappointing, I don’t think the result really reflects the race I did because when you have to let go of the front group you’re disappointed a little bit and it’s quite hard mentally to finish the race but I’m glad I did and I’m glad to be racing again.”
The 25-year-old won’t have to wait long for his first chance of victory on the road in 2020, with Milano-Torino this coming Wednesday before Milan – San Remo on Saturday.