Mathieu Van der Poel will continue to race cyclocross and target the UCI World Championships at least into 2025 with the goal of equalling, or even bettering, the seven rainbow jerseys won by Eric De Vlaeminck driving him on in the cold and mud of the European winter.
For 2024, however, the chance of two gold medals in the road race and mountain bike at the Paris Olympic Games is the Dutchman’s north star and will decide if or how he rides the Tour de France.
Van der Poel looks unbeatable this winter and is dominating the Kerstperiode battles of the big three, having beaten Wout van Aert and/or Tom Pidcock in all four races he has raced so far.
He is the only one of the trio confirmed to ride the World Championships in the Czech city of Tabor on February 4 and he’ll be taking aim at rainbow jersey number six. Eric De Vlaeminck won his seven titles between 1966 and 1973. Van der Poel’s seventh could come in early 2025.
“It’s one of the reasons why I still race cyclocross,” van der Poel told La Gazzetta dello Sport during an exclusive interview published on Thursday.
After winning in Gavere on December 26, van der Poel faces an intense New Year campaign, riding the evening Telenet Superprestige race in Diegem on Thursday, the Azencross in Loenhout on Saturday, the World Cup in Hulst, in the Netherlands on December 30 and then the X²O Badkamers Trofee GP Sven Nys on New Year’s Day.
His Kerstperiode block of nine races also includes the X²O Badkamers Trofee Vlaamse Duinencross in Koksijde on January 4 and then the Zonhoven World Cup on January 7. He will then clash with Van Aert one last time in the Benidorm World Cup race in Spain on January 1, before the World Championships on February 4.
Van Aert scratched Zonhoven from his race schedule but recently confirmed he will end his cyclocross campaign in Benidorm to focus on and stay fresh for an intense spring of training and racing. Van der Poel, meanwhile, is convinced he can combine cyclocross racing with his pre-season road training.
“I know what Wout means but cyclocross is still a good way of preparing for my road season and the Worlds is still an objective,” he said. “I don’t know how I’ll think about that in the years to come. Things will perhaps change.”
Van der Poel prefers to divide his racing and his training into blocks, to give him mental and physical separation and perhaps create barriers against external expectations and pressure.
He will surely defend his rainbow stripes at the Zürich Road World Championships in 2024 but that is far too far off to worry about and comes after his cyclocross campaign, the spring Classics, the Tour de France and a likely – but still to-be-confirmed – mountain bike and road race combo at the Paris Olympics in the summer.
“I’m focused on a sixth cyclocross world title, I’m not thinking about anything else,” he explained. “I’ll worry about planning the rest of my season after that. For sure the Olympics are the north star of my 2024 season.
“We’ve got to study the best path to Paris, perhaps combining it with the Tour de France, it’s a difficult puzzle to work out. I still haven’t decided if I’ll just ride the road race (on August 3) or the mountain bike race (on July 29) or both.”
Van der Poel won Milano-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in 2023 and was only beaten by Tadej Pogačar at the Tour of Flanders.
“My ambitions in the Classics won’t change,” he confirmed. “After that, I’ll see how my form is and if it’s good, there’s a chance I could ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege.”
With a packed New Year cyclocross calendar, Van der Poel will have little time for celebrations but has a simple wish for himself and the world.
“I just want to enjoy my year in the rainbow jersey and confirm all the good things I did in 2023,” he said. “If I look beyond the world of sport, there’s no doubt: I can only wish for peace in the world.”