Following his devastating performance in the Antwerp World Cup on Saturday, Alpecin-Deceuninck management have stated categorically that this season, Mathieu van der Poel is racing at his strongest ever in cyclocross.
Van der Poel struggled to clip into his pedals off the start line and then was held up by a crash on Saturday early on in the World Cup event but bounced back to dominate the field.
It was the Dutchman’s third win of three races this season and after his victory at Mol on Friday, his second in two days.
Praised by rivals and supporters alike, Alpecin-Deceuninck team management argued that Van der Poel, a five times cyclocross World Champion, is surpassing even his own exceptionally high standards in the discipline.
Neither Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) nor Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), on paper his closest rivals, could come close to Van de Poel on Sunday, with Van Aert placing second and Pidcock eighth.
“This is the best Mathieu I have ever seen in a cyclocross race,” Alpecin-Deceuninck head sports director Christoph Roodhoft told Het Nieuwsblad about his 28-year-old star. “For this time of the season, and we’re still in the countdown to New Year’s Eve, remember – he’s never been better.”
Roodhoft pointed out that Antwerp is not a course that lends itself to overtaking, and even so, “he clearly stood out above the rest of the field.”
As for the reasons why, Roodhoft argued that without any outside factors like injuries or illness affecting him for more than a year, there was no reason why Van der Poel could not shine so brightly.
“The past fourteen months have passed off smoothly; everything has gone according to plan, and he has reached an age where a lot of things are falling into place.”
“He feels good, technically, it is almost flawless, his bike is optimal, and his position is ideal. It’s going just fine, end of story. And, of course, the starting point is his natural talent. Mathieu hasn’t lost many races in the past ten years, has he?”
As for other reasons, Roodhoft argued that Van der Poel’s move away from cycling-mad Belgium to Spain, where there are fewer outside distractions, also acted indirectly in his favour when it came to fighting for the win.
“There is always something going on at home in Belgium, even if it is just a trip out to the recycling bins. He doesn’t do much more than train and rest there in Spain, you can best compare it to a long training camp. And you simply use less energy to complete your training because of the better weather conditions.”
Roodhoft played down the idea, though, that as Van der Poel was racing so strongly, he would be impossible to beat all season. Referring to the early setbacks in the Antwerp World Cup, he said that he even thought at one point that defeat could have happened on Saturday.
“Without being immodest, it seems unlikely to me that there will be a competition this winter in which he does not participate for the victory,” he told Het Nieuwsblad.
“It is always possible not to win. Can Wout van Aert still beat him this season? Why not? I saw a highly motivated Wout van Aert in the last two laps of the race. The way he rode to second place indicates that Wout is getting better.”