Wout van Aert could only praise eternal rival Mathieu van Poel on his victory at Milan-San Remo and try to find solace in his own performance and third place on the final podium.
The Jumbo-Visma rider dragged Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) across to Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) on the decisive part of the Poggio but had no reply when Van der Poel then surged near the summit.
Van Aert tried to lead the chase down the Poggio, but Van der Poel extended his lead second by second, all the way to the finish in Via Roma where he celebrated a solo victory.
Ganna kicked away from Van Aert in sight of the line but the Belgian distanced Pogačar to take third.
“Mathieu showed everybody he was super strong. He did the strong move at the right moment. Congrats to him,” Van Aert said after an awkward moment on a small sofa as he waited for the podium ceremony alongside Van der Poel and Ganna.
“We raced to win and that’s also what Mathieu did, he was super strong. I think I was strong today. I was in the final with the best guys, so I was happy with that,” Van Aert added.
Van Aert perhaps regretted his efforts on the Poggio, when Van der Poel was on his wheel but he saw Pogačar going away with Ganna on his wheel and wanted to be part of the decisive attack.
“It definitely was a fast race. We kept the breakaway close, there was high speed the whole day,” he said, recounting the long 294km day in the saddle.
“It was maybe easier on Cipressa than expected. I think there was more headwind than everybody thought because of all the twists and turns. Then we went with a big group to the Poggio. We climbed the Poggio really fast. Wellens’ leadout for Pogačar meant it split up early,” he explained.
“I could mark the attacks so that just as a good thing but later on when Mathieu still had something left, it was too much for me.”
Van Aert was unsure of his form when he made his season debut less than two weeks ago after being sick at the start of his attitude camp in February. However, the fatigue of Tirreno-Adriatico combined with his hard work appear to have given him the form for the spring Classics.
His performance rather than his result at Milan-San Remo was satisfying and motivating for the next Monument Classics on his home turf in the next few weeks.
“I’m looking forward to what’s coming. The legs are there and I’m really hungry to race more,” Van Aert concluded.