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Could Mathieu Van der Poel be the greatest talent cycling has ever seen?

10 November, 2020
Could Mathieu Van der Poel be the greatest talent cycling has ever seen? 1

Of the current stars, Peter Sagan is closest to the ideal, but there is a guy in the world who has talent and the ability to become better than him.

What should be the ideal cyclist? We see him as a versatile person, not only proving his versatility on the highway, but also in other cycling disciplines. 

Such a rider can not only show record high watts, but also master his bike perfectly in order to overcome descents and technically difficult sections faster than others.

Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel was born on January 19, 1995 in the Belgian commune of Capellen. He continues to live in Capellen to this day, although at competitions he represents his father’s country – the Netherlands. 

In the north, Capellen borders the Netherlands, so Mathieu Van der Poel can get to his home country in just a couple of tens of minutes.

Heredity?

It is possible to argue for a long time how much genes help in the world of sports, and whether they help at all, but they help Mathieu Van der Poel for sure. 

The maternal grandfather of the Dutchman is the Frenchman Raymond Poulidor, one of the best road racers in the history of cycling. Poulidor kept at the highest level for 15 years, but went down in history as forever the second. 

8 Times Poulidor became the overall winner of the Tour de France, four times won the medals of the world championship, but his greatest successes in his career remained victories at the Vuelta and Milan – San Remo. 

Best of Mathieu Van der Poel by Cycling Boy

In the first half of his career, Poulidor could not cope with Jacques Anquetil on the Tour, and after a while Eddie Merckx came to replace Anquetil. As a result, Merckx and Anketil won the main cycling race of the world five times, and Poulidor never.

Mathieu van der Poel In the early years

Mathieu Van der Poel
2013 World Junior Road Championship – Florence Italy

Mathieu’s father’s advice was very helpful, and he quickly became a leader in the younger age groups. He focused on cyclocross, but in the summer he spent quite an intense season on the highway.

In the 2011-2012 season, the young Dutchman entered the junior category and in two seasons produced a phenomenal series of results in cyclocross. 

Mathieu van der Poel won 48 races out of 50, including two world titles. In 2013, Mathieu became the strongest in the world and in the group road race. He managed to become the first rider in men’s competition to become the reigning world cyclocross and highway champion.

The “biggest disappointment” of his young career.

In the following years, Van der Poel did not slow down and did not abandon the previously planned plan – first of all, cyclocross, and only then the road season with a not too busy calendar, an advantage in the summer months. 

A couple of times, Mathieu received quite unpleasant injuries and even operated on both knees, but this did not unsettle him, he was able to quickly return.

In 2015, the Dutchman set another milestone, becoming the youngest ever cyclocross world champion in the elite category. At the time of the victory in the Czech Tabor, he was only 20 years old.

The next three times, it was Wout Van Aert who became the world champion, Mathieu was content with only silver and bronze medals. 

True, this did not fundamentally affect the status of the strongest cyclocrossman, Van der Poel lost the main race to Wout Van Aert.

Mathieu Van der Poel
Press Conference in Luxembourg in 2017

Of course, Mathieu van der Poel does not like to lose, his defeat at the World Championships in Luxembourg in 2017 was very difficult for him. 

The Dutchman could not hold back tears either at the awards ceremony or at the press conference that followed shortly after.

Jose Maria Jimenez “El Chava” a cycling star from Spain

Mathieu van der Poel VS Wout Van Aert

Wout van Aert versus Mathieu van der Poel in Zonnebeke: “Ide... - Het Nieuwsblad Mobile

Head-to-head on the road, they have raced against each other on many times occasions since 2014 Van der Poel has come out on top on 15 occasions (five wins), and Van Aert has bested his Dutch rival on eight occasions (with four wins).

In cyclocross, there’s a deeper history stretching back almost a decade, with more than 150 races against each other. Mathieu van der Poel won the junior world championship in 2012, with Van Aert second.

They each have one Monument to their credit – Tour of Flanders for Van der Poel and Milan-San Remo for Van Aert, both this year – but Van Aert has had the slightly more impressive season, courtesy of a phenomenal Tour de France where he won two stages and was a superstar domestique.

In 2014, Van Aert won the U23 world title, with Van der Poel finishing third. In 2015, they both stepped up to elite level, although they were still eligible to race U23 again; Van der Poel claimed his first elite world championship, with Van Aert second.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) beat his rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to win the 2020 Tour of Flanders.

The final podium of the 2020 Tour of Flanders ends with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) at the top, followed by Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on the second step, while Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) finished in third place.

It’s all About having fun – Mathieu Van der Poel

It is really not too interesting for people like him to ride in the peloton for 3-4 hours and wait for the last kilometers, on which something will start to happen. 

And he makes much more money in cyclocross and mountain biking than the bulk of professional road bikes. Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert are the stars and the organizers pay them extra simply for participating in the competition.

Why do we not compare the Dutchman with Sagan? The thing is that Peter at also lived the current life of Van der Poel. As a junior, Sagan was rapidly moving from one discipline to another. 

The Slovak was the world champion in mountain bike, the winner of the world cyclocross championship and achieved success on the highway, but still did not reach the level of Mathieu Van der Poel.

It’s too early to say on which road races we will definitely see Mathieu in 2021, but the public already knows him well, which means he will definitely intersect with Sagan, van Art, Gilbert and other cycling stars, and it will be damn interesting to watch.

By: Berthy Perez