Dutch fans hope home hero copes with Amstel pressure

Mathieu Van der Poel stoked Dutch hopes by winning the Brabantse Pijl (AFP Photo/DAVID STOCKMAN)
Mathieu Van der Poel stoked Dutch hopes by winning the Brabantse Pijl (AFP Photo/DAVID STOCKMAN)

Maastricht (Netherlands) (AFP) - The Amstel Gold, the only Dutch classic on the cycling calendar, has not had a domestic winner this century, but this year home fans are becoming excited about Mathieu van der Poel.

"I find it exaggerated to present myself as the super favourite of this race because it takes place at home," the 24-year-old said ahead of sunday's race.

"Even though it is actually one of my big goals."

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On Wednesday the reigning Dutch road race champion won the Brabantse Pijl for his third one-day victory this season. He has also finished fourth in both the Tour of Flanders, one of the cycling monuments, and the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

Yet it is not just his successes in road racing that feed the fascination with Belgian-born van der Poel.

He has won two world titles in cyclo cross and dominated the discipline.

He also brings a distinguished family tradition.

His father, Adri van der Poel, won six one-day classics and finished second in both the road-race and cyclo-cross world championships.

His maternal grandfather Raymond Poulidor, won the Vuelta a Espana and three one-day classics but was nicknamed the 'eternal second' for finishing on the Tour de France podium eight times without ever winning the race.

In midweek van der Poel outsprinted Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe after nearly 200 kilometres of racing but still sees the Frenchman, winner of Milan-San Remo this season, as the man to beat.

"He's the best rider in the pack at the moment," said van der Poel.

The race runs 265 kilometres from Maastricht to Valkenburg and the tricky course with 35 short sharp climb seems to favour Alaphilippe, who is some 11 centimetres shorter and 13 kilogrammes lighter than van der Poel who is 1.84-metre tall and weighs 75 kilos.

"My height and weight are not an advantage," the Dutch rider said.

Alaphilippe is a part of the all-conquering Deceuninck-Quick Step team. Another member, Philippe Gilbert won the Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. The 36-year-old Belgian is trying to equal the record of Dutchman Jan Raas and win a fifth Amstel Gold.

"It's up to the team to bring us, Julian and me, into the Kruisberg," one of the last climbs, he said. "Then it will be up to us to act."

The course gives a chance to the sprinters, such as 2018 winner Peter Sagan who suggested he is back in form in Roubaix, the Australian Michael Matthews and the Italian Sonny Colbrelli.

Another veteran chasing a significant victory is 38-year-old world champion Alejandro Valverde, who was second in 2015. No Spaniard has ever won the race.

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