It had looked for most of the final hour of racing as though it would be a straight shootout between Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck Quickstep) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), but van der Poel put in a Herculean effort to charge across with about 1km to go, leading to a chaotic bunch sprint. What made his victory all the more impressive was that van der Poel not only won the sprint, he also led it out, and closed the gap to the leading pair.
And the 24-year-old, a winner at the 74th Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl already this year, still had the legs to outsprint Simon Clarke (EF Education First) and Fuglsang to take the biggest win of his career.
‘The greatest ambush ever’ - Mathieu van der Poel takes impossible Amstel Gold Race win
The five-kilometre sprint
In a performance that ranks among the most impressive of the last decade in cycling, the Dutchman did what seemed to be impossible, frustrating the hopes of Alaphilippe and Fuglsang who, with five kilometres to go, had seemed certain of victory.
Julian Alaphilippe launches an attack
Questions will be asked about the tactics of Deceuninck and Astana to let him back into the race, but there's only so much that can be done in the face of such an inspired, virtuoso ride. His effort began as far out as 5km from the line and he pulled six riders who had up to that point been out of contention, right back into the race.
Simon Clarke was the biggest beneficiary on the van der Poel train, sitting on the Corendon - Circus rider's wheel all the way to the line for a second place that will rank among his most impressive career results. Fuglsang was vivibly furious to come away with third, while Alaphilippe and Max Schachmann (Bora Hansgrohe) closed out the top five.
Mathieu van der Poel attacks at Amstel Gold Race
Van der Poel had looked bullish from about 40km to go, when he attacked solo to try and force a selection. As it transpired, this was just a teaser of the explosive power he was to unleash later in the day.
That early sortie led to the defining move of the race, when Alaphilippe and Fuglsang went clear together a few moments later. The duo worked beautifully together until around three kilometres to go, when Fuglsang, expecting to be the slower in the sprint, started to skip turns - refusing to bring Alaphilippe to the line. It was this hesitation that opened a tiny chink of light, into which the charging van der Poel was able to storm.
The wins keep coming
Van der Poel can now add the Amstel Gold Race to his already impressive palmares and it will come as some comfort to the rest of the peloton to know the young Dutch phenom is not scheduled to compete at next week's Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
However, there will be a huge battle for the Dutchman's signature ahead of next year's road season and we could very well see him in a WorldTour team's colours - and at that point, you have to fear for the hopes of everybody else in the one-day classics.
Words by Tom Owen.