Dutch prodigy Mathieu van der Poel showed why he is such a hot favourite with the bookies to win the elite world road race championships in Yorkshire in a couple of weeks’ time, taking a dominant victory on stage four of the OVO Energy Tour of Britain on Tuesday to grab the overall race lead.
The 24 year-old - whose grandfather is French great Raymond Poulidor - is one of a new breed of riders who competes across a variety of disciplines including cyclocross, mountain bike racing and road racing. Van der Poel has won either world or European titles in all of them, not to mention classic one-day races such as Amstel-Gold earlier this year.
He showed all of his famed explosiveness at the end of a gruelling day in the North Pennines and Howgills on Tuesday, powering clear on the finish climb of Beast Banks in Kendal after the peloton had chased down a long-range attack by the 2014 winner Dylan van Baarle [Team Ineos] France’s Axel Domont [AG2R La Mondiale] and the Irishman Eddie Dunbar [Team Ineos].
Van der Poel launched his effort with around 300m of the 500m climb remaining, winning by three seconds from a group of four riders, including Britain's Ben Swift [Team Ineos].
“I knew that the finish suited me really well if I had good legs,” said the Corendon-Circus rider afterwards. “I was confident to do a good finish here and I think the team did a great job. This climb is perfect for me. I really like those finish straights and it’s something I’m good at especially after a hard stage like today.
“Attacking early was a bit of a gamble because I didn’t really know where the finish line was. I got a bit bumped in yesterday at the finish [in Newcastle, where he was second] and I didn’t want it to happen again today, so I just went full gas with 300 metres to go.
“It was actually a bit far but I immediately had a gap. With 100 metres to go the road got a bit easier so it was big enough to keep that gap until the finish line.”
Van der Poel heads into today’s fifth stage on the Wirral with a slender 1sec advantage over Mitchelton-Scott’s Matteo Trentin, but he predicted that tomorrow’s time trial stage in Worcestershire would be key to the overall victory.
“It’s going to be a battle for sure but I think the time trial [on stage six] will be decisive and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve done one. I don’t know where I stand in that discipline right now so it’s going to be really hard to be in touch with the best time trial guys here.”