Mathieu van der Poel was gripped by his emotions when the inescapable comparisons to his famous grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, were brought up.
"It's so special for me that I won here just like him," said the cross-country world champion, who, like "Poupou" 62 years ago, triumphed in the difficult spring classic Milan-Sanremo.
And the parallels are hard to argue away. When Poulidor shot down the Via Roma in 1961, at that time still without a helmet and high-tech machine, he had saved a small lead over his big competitors to the finish. Something similar was achieved by van der Poel, who single-handedly celebrated 15 seconds ahead of the Italian hour record holder Filippo Ganna, the Belgian all-rounder Wout van Aert and superstar Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia.
Poulidor, who died in November 2019, would certainly have been very proud of his grandson, who spent his summer holidays with him in Limousin every year as a child. Van der Poel's triumph in the Tour de France two years ago, when he wore yellow for six days, was also no longer granted to him. That yellow jersey, which Poulidor never got, although he was on the podium eight times in Paris and was therefore admired by his French compatriots.
Record time at Poggio
But it was already foreseeable at the time that "VDP" would one day become a world-class professional cyclist. In the meantime, in addition to his five world championship titles in cross-country skiing, he has become a real classic hunter like his father Adrie. He has already won the Tour of Flanders twice, where the next big duel with Pogacar will take place in two weeks. He has also celebrated at the difficult Strade Bianche gravel race and the Amstel Gold Race.
But Milan-Sanremo, one of the five monuments in cycling, was the race he desperately wanted to win. "I love the last 100 kilometers, but the problem is the 200 before that," joked the Dutchman, who delivered a tactical masterstroke.
The 28-year-old stormed up the 3.7-kilometre Poggio just before the finish in a record time of 5:40 minutes. On the descent he then drove away from Pogacar and Co., although according to his own statement he did not risk everything like last year's winner Matej Mohoric on his breakneck ride to Sanremo. Nevertheless, the second-fastest average hourly speed of 45.773 km/h was achieved in 114 editions of the classic.
Pogacar: "I was dead then"
"There's nothing to regret," said Pogacar, who arrived as the top favorite with nine wins this season: "I attacked, but I didn't get away solo. Then van der Poel sprinted to the top (of the Poggio) and I was dead. " There was no longer any sign of the German drivers, and in the end Nikias Arndt was still the best German in 18th place.
But Van der Poel could not be reached anyway. The Dutchman has now learned, inevitably because of his back problems, to approach the races economically. And if he gets his temper under control, days like this are possible.
In September last year, he missed out on his title chances at the World Championships in Australia after spending the night before the race in the police station after a fight with two girls in a hotel. The two teenagers kept knocking on the professional cyclist's hotel door. An original fine was later reversed. The night before Milan-Sanremo was apparently much more leisurely.