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State of the Nation: Analysing the Netherlands men's 2021 World Championships team

Mathieu van der Poel of Netherlands
Mathieu van der Poel of Netherlands (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Ahead of the 2021 UCI Road World Championships elite road races, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams.

We've looked at the men's teams from the United States, Great Britain and Australia along with the women's teams from Great Britain the United States and Australia. Now it's time to look at one of the men's favourites, the Netherlands.

History

The Dutch might be the fourth most successful nation when it comes to winning the men’s elite road race at the UCI Road World Championships with seven rainbow jerseys but their record over the last 30 years has been a pale imitation of a team that won three times in the 1970s. You have to go all the way back to 1985 to find their last win courtesy of Joop Zoetemelk, while Leon van Bon was their last medallist all the way back in 1997. 

A lot of the 1990s were a struggle due to the rivalry between TVM and Rabobank contingents but to be fair the last two generations of Dutch riders have been without a bonafide one-day star with the likes of Michael Boogerd and Tom Dumoulin putting in admirable but ultimately futile medal pursuits, and whereas their female counterparts have become a dominant force on the Worlds stage, their male colleagues have resigned themselves to roles of plucky also-rans. 

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) almost changed the script in 2019 when he formed part of the all-important winning break but the lights went out in the closing stages and it was left to the team’s domestiques to try and salvage a result.

Lineup

Key riders

There’s really only one place to start - Mathieu van der Poel front and center to the Dutch team’s ambitions. Back issues aside, he’s the one rider on the already strong outfit that can light up the race, and even if he’s not at full fitness with doubts over his durability due to his lack of racing he’s still the team’s trump card. 

A win in the Antwerp Port Epic earlier this month will have boosted Van der Poel's confidence, and if on form, the Flanders course is near perfect for the 26-year-old’s skill set. Along with Julian Alaphilippe (France), Tom Pidcock (United Kingdom), and Wout van Aert (Belgium), the Dutch rider can take on the race from far out and stretch the opposition lines to breaking point but the lack of time on the road since the Tour de France is a genuine concern. 

His natural talent aside, Van der Poel hasn’t raced more than 250 kilometres in a single day since the Tour of Flanders, and in the final hour of racing at Worlds that can be crucial. That said, Van der Poel wouldn’t show up if he thought that his recent injury problems were detrimental to his overall hopes of winning the race, 

Pound for pound, Bauke Mollema is one of the most underrated riders in the men’s WorldTour and he’s arguably Trek-Segafredo's best rider since Fabian Cancellara hung up his wheels. The Dutchman’s wins in Il Lombardia, San Sebastian, three Grand Tour stages, and his consistency in GC are testament to his overall talents, and while he might be closing in on his 35th birthday, and recently took a heavy fall in Luxembourg, he’s still a competitive force. The parcours in Flanders isn’t exactly his natural habitat but Mollema’s versatile nature gives added depth and a different dimension to the Dutch brigade.

Dylan van Baarle, another rider who has recently crashed and seen his build-up affected, won a fine edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier in the year but there’s a nagging feeling that the 29-year-old still hasn’t hit his absolute peak. Part of that might be down to his Ineos environment, where he’s asked to dovetail one-day ambitions with his Grand Tour duties but in theory, he should be Van der Poel’s right-hand man in the latter stages of the elite race. Van Baarle is also a strong contender for infiltrating the penultimate key move in the race – the one that tends to draw out the favourites – and his overall staying power could be key if Van der Poel is shouldered with the burden of chasing down moves.

Danny van Poppel has better staying power than many give him credit for and his record in sprints is solid rather than spectacular. However, his sheer presence in the roster gives the Dutch team another level and tactic to play on. There are certainly faster riders in the race but if Van Poppel follows a break or jumps on the right wheel then he could alter how Van der Poel’s rivals react. If there’s not a sprint, then Van Poppel will ride as a key domestique, and his experience will be key when it comes to positioning and sheltering from the conditions.

Teunissen has plenty of potential, and while we're not likely to see a lot of action from Eenkhoorn, Riesebeek or Langeveld, they're solid squad members who be vital to Van der Poel's chances.

Strengths

There are few if any weak links within the Dutch team. There are legitimate questions over Van der Poel’s form given his back injury woes but assuming he lines up on the start line near his best, then he will play a role in the outcome of the race. The Dutchman can handle the climbing on offer over the punchy Flandrian course, while his natural desire to break up the race – even from a long way out – should nullify a number of his opponents. The rest of the team are built around Van der Poel but Mollema offers something different. Overall, it’s a robust team with one of the main favorites for the rainbow jersey.

Weaknesses

The preparation has been far from ideal and if Van der Poel is off the boil then it’s hard to see where the Dutch can find an alternative. Few teams would have a ready-made replacement for a rider as complete as Van der Poel, and while Van Baarle and Mollema have class in abundance, they’re not top-level favourites. 

The view from the Netherlands

If you look to the men's team then you have to start with their terrible luck in recent months. If you look at Van der Poel, he's had the back injury and his preparation has been far from perfect. It's true, you never know with him, and if you look back at his career there are many times when he made the impossible possible. He can always surprise us but his road to the Worlds has been bumpy in comparison to many of his rivals. Van der Poel will be the absolute leader though. Van Baarle crashed in the Vuelta and damaged his hip, and then Mollema had that terrible crash in the Tour of Luxembourg. Normally Tom Dumoulin would be here but his season is over due to broken wrist, and finally, with Teunissen, we've not seen him at this complete best since 2019.

It means that you can't really count the Dutch team as the favourites, because they are behind the teams like France, Belgium, Italy, and Slovenia. To me the Dutch are outsiders but Van der Poel always gives you hope.

Raymond Kerckhoffs, wielerflits

Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.