Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) delivered another exhibition at the X20 Trofee Koksijde on Thursday, as he made light work of the demanding, sandy course to claim his ninth victory from nine starts this winter on the cyclocross circuit.
The Dutchman’s eternal rival Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike), a distant third in Koksijde, has scaled back his cyclocross commitments this winter with a view to performing at his best at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and he will race just once more, at the Benidorm World Cup, before turning his attention to the road.
Van der Poel, by contrast, has been in sparkling form this winter, and he will continue his cyclocross campaign as far as next month’s World Championships in Tabor, where he will be the overwhelming favourite to pick up his sixth rainbow jersey in the discipline.
Speaking to reporters after his latest procession in Koksijde, however, Van der Poel stressed that, like Van Aert, his principal aim in the early part of 2024 was to perform strongly in the Spring Classics.
“It’s very difficult say what percentage of my form I am at, but I can certainly improve towards the World Championships,” Van der Poel said, according to Het Laatste Nieuws. “I trained very well for the cyclocross season, but since Herentals I have actually trained very little. I just did those ‘crosses.
“After Zonhoven [on Sunday], I will go back to Spain to finalise my preparation for the Worlds. How much more can be added? You’d have to ask my trainer about that. We are, of course, still building – first to the Worlds, and then to the Spring. In any case, my peak should be in the Spring. That’s still the most important thing.”
Van der Poel enjoyed a remarkable season on the road in 2023 after landing his fifth cyclocross world title, winning Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix before crowning his year with by claiming victory on the road at the World Championships in Glasgow.
The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider could potentially start his 2024 road campaign in February at the Volta ao Algarve, before riding Tirreno-Adriatico as he builds towards, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
The remainder of his campaign is less clear, and much will depend on his ambitions at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The Dutchman has indicated that he will skip the Tour de France if he decides to ride both the mountain bike and road race events in Paris.
In Koksijde on Thursday, however, Van der Poel only had eyes for the sand dunes directly in front of him, powering clear on the opening lap to claim an emphatic victory, 1:20 ahead of Pim Ronhaar (Baloise Trek Lions) and 1:43 ahead of Van Aert.
“Koksijde is always one of the more difficult races to lead, because when you get to the sand sections, the line is gone,” said Van der Poel, who added that it hadn’t been his intention to forge clear so early.
“I rode very well through the sand twice, which immediately left me with a nice gap. After that I chose to pace myself, but Pim Ronhaar was coming close, so I had to keep driving on.”