There’s a tantalizing possibility brewing that Mathieu van der Poel might race the world road championships this fall.
Despite van der Poel’s decision to put road racing on hold for the remainder of 2019, the Dutch national coach says he’s holding a place on the world championship roster for van der Poel if he wants it.
“It should come as no surprise that I would like to see him join us,” Dutch team coach Koos Moerenhout told AD. “I’ve already been inspecting the Yorkshire course, and it fits him perfectly.”
The 24-year-old phenomenon is pulling the plug on his road racing season following his stunning victory Sunday at Amstel Gold Race. After a brief recovery period, he is set to tackle a full mountain bike World Cup schedule as well as the world mountain bike championships, September 1 in Mont Saint-Anne, Canada.
That shift in focus is part of a larger goal of targeting the mountain bike event at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games. He’s willing to forfeit a potentially blockbuster road contract to do it.
Van der Poel needs a strong mountain bike campaign this summer to earn points to assure himself a spot on the Dutch Olympic team as well as to hone his off-road racecraft heading toward Tokyo next summer.
There’s already mounting pressure, however, for van der Poel to race the road worlds, slated for September 29 in Yorkshire on a hilly course that many say is ideal for van der Poel’s skill set.
With the momentum he’s carrying out of the spring classics, many say it’s the chance of a lifetime for him to try to win the road world title.
Will he do it? Technically he could, but whether he will he is another question.
First off, van der Poel already has a jam-packed schedule this summer going into the fall. After the mountain bike worlds, the cyclocross World Cup season starts in the United States in Iowa City on September 14. There’s also an important Tokyo mountain bike test event scheduled on October 6 in Japan.
Squeezing in the road worlds on September 29 is possible, but would likely require van der Poel to give something up.
And then there’s the question of recovery and preparation. There would be time to recover from the mountain bike worlds and prepare for the road worlds, but that might mean giving up the two ‘cross World Cup events in North America in September. In 2018, van der Poel opted to skip those early races, starting his cyclocross season in October instead.
Physically, van der Poel has shown he can go the world championship distance — the Yorkshire course is 285km — by competing in Ronde van Vlaanderen and Amstel Gold Race, both more than 250km in length.
And if he tried to fit in everything, that would require a lot of travel.
So far, van der Poel has said his focus will remain on mountain biking this summer before a return to the cyclocross circuit this winter.
Moerenhout said there have been some early discussions about the possibility of van der Poel racing the road worlds, but he said no firm decision has been made either way.
“It is Mathieu’s choice,” Moerenhout told AD. “He has to see if it fits in with his program, given his activities on the mountain bike and his preparation for the cyclocross season. We will talk about it soon and then make a decision, but Mathieu has shown that he is good at making choices.”
Just the prospect of van der Poel racing the road worlds raises another tantalizing possibility: the Dutch prodigy could wear world championship jerseys across all three of cycling’s major disciplines, something Pauline Ferrand-Prevot did in 2015.
He already owns the world cyclocross title that he won in February.
Of course, the mountain bike and road titles are far from reality, but the possibility exists. Last year, he was third in the mountain bike worlds and he won the junior road world title in 2013.
Everything seems possible for van der Poel right now, so don’t count it out.
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