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Mathieu van der Poel: Team and sponsors want me at Tour de France but Olympics mean more to me

Dutch Mathieu Van Der Poel after winning the mens elite race at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Oostende Belgium Sunday 31 January 2021 BELGA PHOTO POOL Photo by POOLBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
Mathieu van der Poel at the 2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Ostend (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

After his fourth Cyclo-cross World Championships win on Sunday, Mathieu van der Poel has once again confirmed that the elite men's mountain bike race at the Olympic Games is of greater importance to him than competing at the Tour de France this season.

He said that his Alpecin-Fenix team and sponsorship commitments are the main reason that he will race on the road in July. The Dutchman admitted on Monday that he had contemplated skipping the Tour.

"For me, the Olympics is way more important than the Tour," Van der Poel said in a press conference on Monday.

"As I see my calendar now I will do three World Cups in mountain biking and I also plan a longer training camp on the mountain bike in Livigno. I don't know the plan by heart, but I know that it happens before the Tour de France. It ends before the Tour de Suisse." 

Van der Poel added that preparation for his Tour debut will come on the mountain bike, rather than with road racing, such is the importance of the Tokyo Olympics

"I'll prepare myself for the Tour de France on the mountain bike. It will not be 100 per cent but as I've said the Olympics are more important," he said.

"When I won the National Championships on the road a few years ago I almost rode my mountain bike everyday in Livigno, so shape is more important for me. I think that switching bikes is something that I'm good at, but I need to improve my mountain bike skills because last year I rode two or three times on the mountain bike and I noticed that the feelings were not the same.

"I considered skipping the Tour. For me the best way to go to the Olympics in my top shape would mean skipping it but I think that the sponsors and the team want me to be there so I understand."

While the Tour de France is still several months away, Van der Poel did confirm that his road season would start within the next few months. His main objectives for this spring remain the Classics, with the Dutchman looking to defend his Tour of Flanders crown and also take aim at Paris-Roubaix, which was cancelled in 2020

"I think that now I'll take some rest and it depends on the weather and if I go to Spain to prepare for the road season because I need to do some longer training and the weather is not ideal in Belgium at the moment but I've not decided yet. I'll start my season at the UAE Tour at the end of this month, and I need to do some training."

On Sunday, Van der Poel claimed his fourth elite men's cyclo-cross world title after beating his rival Wout van Aert. The Belgian suffered a flat tyre on the third lap and was unable to regain contact with Van der Poel, who had crashed earlier on. The Dutchman admitted that the race might have been different if luck hadn't played such a major role in the outcome of the event.

"We had really low tyre pressure yesterday because of the sand, but I think that it was one of the only flat tyres in the whole weekend so that's really bad luck for him," he said.

"That's the thing about sports – it's not just about the legs and the head, it's also about the mechanics. I think it's part of the sport and for sure you don't want anyone to have a flat tyre. It helped me during the race yesterday but I would have preferred to have won without his flat tyre.

"We would have seen a different race if it wasn't for that flat. It's a pity but I've had my portion of bad luck already in past World Championships."

Both Van Aert and Van der Poel will both turn their attention to the road season from this moment on but their rivalry in cyclo-cross shows no sign of diminishing over the coming years.

"The duel between us is getting bigger than the sport. I think that's pretty cool to have someone like him. I think that it also benefits me. I have to be 110 per cent to beat Wout van Aert in cyclo-cross. That motivates me a lot. I need him also but it's not that the other guys aren't riding fast. If we're at our highest level then the two of us are at our strongest."