Mathieu Van der Poel, 3rd in Liège-Bastogne-Liège: “I didn’t believe in the podium”

The world champion only managed one smile at the press conference. When Tadej Pogacar, sitting next to him, questioned him about his next vacation in Dubai marked the recent big floods. As usual, Mathieu Van der Poel (29 years old) played the game by answering questions bluntly about this third place obtained on Sunday which cannot erase his two major successes at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, races that he clearly prefers the classic Ardennes.

Didn’t you hope for better than this third place after your successes at the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix?
But I didn’t believe at all in a place on the podium, even five kilometers from the finish I didn’t imagine that it was still possible. I think I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better, no one will say otherwise it was really the best possible result for me today. I think my classics season was more than successful, and finishing third here is a great satisfaction.

You were slowed down by a collective fall after 98 kilometers of racing…
I was just at the back of the pack getting rid of my leg warmers and gloves when the accident happened in front of me. The road was blocked, I could no longer pass. I didn’t panic, I knew we would come back to our heads at one point or another but it took a lot of effort. After the junction I felt that my legs were already a little tired. But even with my legs from the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, I don’t think I could have recovered to perform better in the final.

Does your performance today comfort you in the idea that Liège-Bastogne-Liège could also be a race for you despite a more rugged profile and therefore more favorable to climbers?
It’s a question that I don’t even ask myself, it’s more you journalists who ask it. I am a fairly realistic person, I know that if Pogacar has a good day in this race, I will never be able to follow him and even with my best legs. I only have one thing to hope, and that is that one day he is not well, otherwise it will always be difficult to win here.

And by losing weight to compete with climbers? Have you ever thought about it?
It’s an option but I prefer to focus on the things I do best and the races that suit me best. Changing all that just to have a chance to win in Liège is certainly not for next year.

“There is no shame in admitting that we were beaten by better people than us”

Is staying in the breach for so long, six weeks since Milan-San Remo, an experience that you can carry out in the future while knowing that it is not an assurance of winning in Liège?
It was a carefully considered decision to make my peak of form last this long and I don’t see why it would be impossible not to do it again in the next few years. It’s something that I already know when I fight in the winter on cyclo-cross and then I move on to the road, it also gives me long periods of competition at a high level. The only detail that I perhaps underestimated was the decompression of the entire team after Roubaix. We had won the first three Monuments, it was difficult for everyone to stay so focused and motivated for the fourth today (Sunday). There is no shame in admitting that we have been beaten by better people than us. »

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