Mathieu van der Poel may have missed a medal, but the Dutchman had reason to be happy.
Van der Poel ended up in eighth place over a minute behind double world champion Julian Alaphilippe after spending much of his race hunting instead of being the aggressor he usually is.
However, he will be pleased that there were no signs of the back problem he has been struggling with for almost three months.
Also read: Mathieu van der Poel treads a ridge of relaxation while the street world and Paris-Roubaix emerge
“That was fine. It didn’t bother me. It was more a matter of fitness and I wasn’t 100 percent, ”said van der Poel about his back after the race.
Van der Poel tensed his back when he fell at the Albstadt MTB World Cup in June and got worse when he fell dramatically again at the Olympic Games and landed on his back after a misjudgment of a rock jump in the first lap.
After coming into the second half of the 2021 season with big plans to win gold at the Olympics, Mountain Bike World Championships, Road World Championships and making his Paris-Roubaix debut, the injury blasted a hole in his ambitions.
Van der Poel tried to adjust his stud position to relieve the pain, but it turned out to be too much and he had to leave a training camp early. The cards soon began to tumble when the MTB worlds were deleted from his calendar and his road return on the Benelux tour also fell by the wayside.
Also read: That’s what Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and others said after Julian Alaphilippe impressed with the World Cup defense
The tide turned for the Dutchman, however, and he finally had some racing action under his belt for the first time in a month when he took an impressive win at Antwerp Port Epic earlier this month. Although he knew he could still beat many of his opponents, while he was recovering from his injury he didn’t have the legs to keep up with the stabbing attacks.
“I was hoping we’d sprint for a medal. I felt like I could do a sprint, but I just don’t have the condition to make two or three stupid attacks like I can normally do, ”he said.
Mathieu van der Poel: “I didn’t get into my rhythm in the first part, I was always too far. I expected them to attack from a distance, but they started at 180 km. They drove incredibly fast. The condition killed me today, not my back. I am satisfied with my limited preparation. “
– Cyclocross24.com (@ cyclocross24) September 26, 2021
Although the result may not have been what he wanted, Van der Poel hopes the drive will give him the base he needs to drive Paris-Roubaix next Sunday. It will be his first appearance at the memorial and he will be one of the favorites again.
“I hope that will give me a little more stamina for next week. I look forward to it. It’s something new, it should suit me. I hope that I took a step today, after maybe a quieter week I can drive a race like today, but with a little more in the final. “
The brutal cobblestones on the road to Roubaix will be the toughest test so far for van der Poel and his back, but he is confident that it will hold up and the cobblestones will not cause him any problems.
Giving up for Dylan van Baarle
We got used to some big swashbuckling moves or “stupid attacks” by van der Poel during his career, but he was unusually calm in Flanders. Not only could he dictate the attacks, but he also had trouble following some of them.
The other Dutch riders rallied around him, with Bauke Mollema proving to be a very valuable rider by his side, keeping him as close to the front as possible.
“I suffered a lot, especially in the first half of the race. I really didn’t feel well. On the laps in Leuven I was overtaken in the second half of the peloton, it was very restless and I was able to get on easily, ”said van der Poel.
“Bauke has closed a gap, but was not too optimistic for the last round of Flanders. I was the last to join the group of seventeen. From then on I felt a little more comfortable and there were fewer accelerations. I didn’t feel bad, but it’s not like I still have a lot in the tank. “
The story behind this podium is also about who is not there 🇫🇷🇳🇱🇩🇰🧐
Thanks for such an exciting race Alaphilippe, van Baarle and Valgren Hundahl 👏 # Flanders2021 pic.twitter.com/QQWOtQy0cA
– UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 26, 2021
Although van der Poel did not get the medal he was looking for, the race was not a complete failure for the Dutchman. Dylan van Baarle passed almost all moves in the final and only missed Alaphilippe’s last intervention.
At the finish he overtook Michael Valgren, Jasper Stuyven and Neilson Powless and took the silver medal, his first podium at a world championship. The Dutch team was all-in for van der Poel at the start of the day, but when the favorite felt the wind blowing before the race, he relieved van Baarle of all team duties to give him the chance to score his own result .
“I get on very well with Dylan. 30k before the destination he came and asked if he should fill in the gaps for me. I said I’d rather let him drive in small groups as it would be more beneficial for us. He did it perfectly and got a nice silver reward, ”said van der Poel.
“That’s why I didn’t ask him to work for me. I know he won Zwergentür Vlaanderen. I knew he could do it and he did it perfectly. “