WORLD champion Mathieu van der Poel was set for a challenging 2020 race schedule before the coronavirus began spreading across the world. The Dutchman was aiming to build on his stellar performances in 2019 and win a road Monument, the World Mountain Bike championship and perhaps Olympic road race gold. But instead, like most other riders, he's been forced to train at home and has not raced for over four months.
It's still unsure which road races Van der Poel hopes to focus on when and if racing returns, but there is definitively one big target for 2021. In an interview with Het Nieuwsblad (published today), Alpecin-Fenix team bosses the Roodhooft brothers announced that Tour chief Christian Prudhomme has given his word.
"Van der Poel will ride the Tour next year. That was promised at his grandfather's funeral," states the newspaper headline.
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Christoph and Philip Roodhooft have always taken their 'cross team to road races and they found success at lower level UCI racing such as the Tour D'Alsace where Van der Poel finished sixth in 2014 and fourth in 2015.
2020 season plans
During the compacted 2020 season - if UCI races go ahead - Van der Poel will mix the classics with World Cup mountain bike racing. The Dutchman will start his road season with Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo just like Wout van Aert and the pair will meet again later in the season at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Van der Poel will also aim to retain his Amstel Gold title in October and neither rider is expected to be seen in a cyclocross race until mid-late November at the earliest.
Christoph Roodhoft told AD.nl yesterday that Van der Poel also wants to race as many mountain bike World Cups as possible so will head to Lenzerheide, Les Gets and Nove Mesto between his two periods of road classics. Roodhoft also said that "Mathieu has gained from the rest period afforded by the corona crisis. He has had a busy program for many years."
The team's road presence has increased with the emergence of Mathieu van der Poel at elite level and culminated in a great team performance at the 2019 Tour of Britain and the Dutchman's seemingly more individual win at Amstel Gold, but it also included beating World Tour teams to the 2019 Belgian road race title (the brothers also beat World Tour teams to secure Alpecin as a sponsor at the start of 2020).
"We acquired the Creafin-Fristads team for one reason," Philip tells Het Nieuwsblad, "Because we wanted to win the Belgian title with Tim Merlier. The project cost a lot of money and energy, but it worked. No other teams were interested in Tim, but if you make a list of the best Belgian sprinters, he is one of those at the top."
Going back in time to 2008, Christoph also tried to sign a young Peter Sagan who had won a junior mountain bike World Cup in Houffalize. "I made a proposal to Sagan, with Radomir Simunek as interpreter, but unfortunately he politely refused. He wanted to be able to race on the road because he thought he could only make money there and I understood that," says Christoph.
Although the brothers missed out on signing green jersey favourite Peter Sagan back in 2008, it seems that they may be heading to the roads of France - and the world's biggest cycle race - with Mathieu van der Poel in 2021.
World junior 'cross champion in 2011 - Van der Poel has immense talent and has been a guided well.
Photo: Konrad Manning/CYCLOCROSSRIDER.com