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Mathieu van der Poel still coping with long-term back injury – 'That worries me the most this winter'

Cycling News logo Cycling News 11/26/2022 Alasdair Fotheringham
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck): for now, the cap is staying on © Getty Images Sport Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck): for now, the cap is staying on

Mathieu van der Poel aims to hit the ground running this weekend when the Alpecin-Deceuninck racer takes part in his first cyclocross event of the season at Hulst.

Van der Poel said in a press conference on Thursday he was optimistic about his chances, particularly in comparison with last year when he barely raced cyclocross because of knee and back issues.

“I think I have the condition to win, although my position in the starting grid is also important," Van der Poel told reporters. "I’ve been told I’m in the fourth row at Hulst and it’s a course where it’s difficult to overtake.”

While the upcoming 2023 World Cyclocross Championships remain his overriding cyclocross goal, accumulating enough points during other races in the season to ensure as forward a position as possible on the start grid at Hoogerheide on February 5 is part of that process.

When it comes to cyclocross, Van der Poel told reporters he differed in attitude to key rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), who stated recently that he did not feel the kind of pressure to perform at a constant high level in that speciality from the moment he started racing. “They are the only events of the year where nothing is expected of me," Van Aert said.

Van der Poel, however, stated that racing to build good form, even in cyclocross, was not his favoured approach. The ambition to win, he said, had to be there no matter the race.

“If you're not okay, just train a little longer until you are,” Van der Poel said. "By the way, Wout won his first cross last year with a lead of almost two minutes. Wout will now also try to win again.”

A nagging back issue, which has apparently troubled him since the Tokyo Olympics Games, where he crashed during the MTB event, still remains a “work in progress” for Van der Poel, who described it as “perhaps the thing that worries me the most this winter. It’s still not like it used to be.” 

On the plus side, he pointed out, Van der Poel could complete his first cyclocross training sessions so this represented an improvement on last season. And he concluded bullishly:  "I'm ready to race."

The one regret he might currently have was to dye his hair blonde. “My girlfriend's mistake," Van der Poel said. "Fortunately, I usually wear a helmet or a cap. And I don't have to look at it myself."

After the cyclocross campaign, Van der Poel will switch to the road and he has confirmed that he will not race two Grand Tours in 2023. After the Spring Classics, he will focus instead on MTB, including two World Cups, before to heading to the Basque Country for the start of the Tour de France on July 1. He has unfinished business at the Tour after his abandon, for a second year running, this summer.

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