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Mathieu van der Poel follows in footsteps of grandfather with solo Milan-San Remo victory

More than 60 years after his grandfather, Van der Poel becomes just fourth Dutch rider to win the Italian monument.

Mathieu van der Poel rode the elite of the peloton off his wheel in a stunning, race-winning attack over the top of the Poggio to bring home victory at Milan-San Remo.

The Dutch rider followed in the wheel tracks of his famous grandfather Raymond Poulidor, who won his only monument during his racing career in the 1961 edition.

“For sure. It’s special not only because he won it, but because it’s a monument and it’s one that every rider wants to win,” Van der Poel said of his historical marker. “I was really focused on this race since I started training again after the cyclocross worlds. I needed some race days at Tirreno-Adriatico to get to my best level and, today, this was my best level I think.”

Saturday’s exploits were emotional reminders of Van der Poel’s tearful ride into the yellow jersey at the 2021 Tour de France.

Van der Poel collapsed into tears after winning stage 2 at the 2021 Tour and dedicated it to Poulidor, who died in 2019 at 83. Van der Poel’s father, ex-pro Adrie, married Poulidor’s daughter.

The much-loved Poulidor was a fan favorite and iconic rider of the 1960s, and raced the Tour de France 14 times, but never won it despite finishing second three times and third five times.

The victory makes Van der Poel just the fourth Dutch rider to win the Italian monument. Other are Arie Den Hartog, Jan Raas and Hennie Kuiper.

Flash forward to 2023, and Van der Poel admittedly was not as sharp as he hoped to be at last week’s Tirreno-Adriatico, but he used the week of racing across Italy’s boot to rediscover his leg speed weeks after winning his fifth cyclocross world title in early February.

Alpecin-Deceuninck rode a near-perfect race to neutralize UAE Team Emirates and Tadej Pogačar, who attacked with just under 7km to fracture the group. Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) was the first to jump on the Slovenian’s wheel, with Van der Poel hitching a ride on longtime nemesis Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to create the race-making four-rider group.

The leading quartet left the peloton shattered in its wake when Van der Poel jumped with about 400m to go to the top of the Poggio ridgeline. He disappeared over the edge, and carried a seven-second lead through the first upper switchbacks.

“I cannot imagine a better scenario than this one,” Van der Poel said. “I already told the team that there was a headwind on Cipressa so it was not as hard as previous years. But I already felt that my legs were still fresh. I knew I wanted to place an attack at the end of the Poggio and I managed to find a small gap between Pogacar and the wall. This is one of the races I really wanted to win. The way I won it today, I think it’s beyond expectation.”

The victory is Van der Poel’s third career monument to go along with two victories in the Tour of Flanders in 2020 and 2022.

Ganna dug deep to finish second for his career-best monument finish that bodes well for the upcoming northern classics, while Van Aert fended off Pogačar for the final step on the podium.