The time to go back to school has come for Mathieu van der Poel. Absent from the first cyclo-cross of the season, while his two main rivals Wout Van Aert and Tom Pidcock have already stood out in the plows, the world champion will take part in his first round of the World Cup this Sunday in Dendermonde , on Boxing Day. It will therefore be the first duel between the two ogres of the discipline since Van Aert will also be there. The goal for the Dutchman is clear: to garner as many UCI points as possible to get a good bib at the Worlds on January 30 in Fayetteville, United States. “I don’t really know where I stand now in terms of condition, underlines the person concerned. I had to postpone my return to competition due to knee pain. But I think everything will be in order by Sunday. The goal will be above all to regain the condition. I want to be world champion, that’s the day I have to be at the top of my game. “
If his fall at the Tokyo Olympics had ruled him out of competitions, due to back pain, this time it was a fall in training that delayed his entry into contention in the mud. “I fell on November 25 while out in the forest with friends. I thought the situation would improve day by day but I was in great pain. I had to stop training for a while. ten days. But I’m coming out of a good three weeks of training and I’m ready to do battle. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to defend my chances during the winter. Finally, I’m here, I just had need an extra week of preparation. “
Last season, the situation between the two scarecrows was the opposite of today. Van der Poel had a series of successes while Wout Van Aert had made his return a little later. This year, the Campinois seems the strongest when the return to competition of his lifelong rival. “I must admit that I am amazed or even impressed by Wout’s level. I didn’t think he would be at such a level. Of course, like in every event, I aim for the victory but will I have the legs for it. To follow on Sunday? I’m not convinced because he is above the rest, so we’ll see. However, the peloton behind him seems approachable. “
His father, Adrie, has also said in recent days that he did not see Mathieu able to climb on the top step of the podium from his first cyclo-cross. “It is not possible. The injury was serious. Moreover, he will not be in the front row, but we know that the start is very important for him”, he said in an interview with sporza.
The winner of the 2020 Tour of Flanders also compared the Belgian events with the next World Cup track, in North Carolina. “The Belgian cyclo-cross have their particularity. If it is not for the physical form, I think that the events are extremely different. There are also other parameters which come into play …”
But between now and the battle to win a fifth iridescent jersey, MVDP will have time to get back on his feet and assess his condition.
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Van der Poel is cautious ahead of his recovery on Sunday: “Following Van Aert will be difficult”