Mathieu van der Poel has named Julian Alaphilippe as the number favourite to become world road race champion next month, insisting the pressures of his own favourite status weigh lightly on his broad but young shoulders.
Van der Poel is targeting the rainbow jersey on the road after a revelatory spring classics campaign this year in which he won Dwars door Vlaanderen and Amstel Gold Race. He also became cyclo-cross world champion in February and has won three mountain bike World Cups over the summer, but has made a successful return to the road this week at the Arctic Race of Norway as he begins his preparation for the Yorkshire Worlds at the end of September.
Speaking to reporters in Norway about the Yorkshire World Championships, Van der Poel quickly reached for the name of Alaphilippe, who has won Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche and La Fleche Wallonne this year, along with two stages at a Tour de France that he led until the penultimate stage.
“For me, Alaphilippe is the favourite. He is the strongest rider this year on the road overall, for sure,” Van der Poel said.
“If you see what he did at the Tour, it’s quite incredible. It’s his last big goal and we’ve seen this year that if he sets his mind, he can achieve really nice things. So for me he’s the strongest opponent.”
The World Championships were not on Van der Poel’s programme at the start of the year but his remarkable spring campaign caused a swift re-think, as it became clear he could switch from one-hour efforts on the cyclo-cross bike to winning big classics of more than six hours.
What’s more, the rolling Yorkshire course represents an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
“The spring was the first time I did long races, and I know now I’m capable of riding a strong finale. For me, that’s the most important thing to know,” he said. “I think the course is a little similar to Amstel Gold Race, with lots of small climbs, narrow roads, a lot of turns.”
Status amongst the favourites
Despite his relative inexperience, the 24-year-old doesn’t shy away from acknowledging his belief he can win, nor his status among the favourites.
“I’m used to the pressure. I don’t think it can rise much higher than this,” he said, latter adding: “I don’t really feel much pressure in road racing.
“I know everyone’s calling me a favourite, so it doesn’t matter if I win one or two or three stages here, or even in the Tour of Britain. I don’t think it matters. I will be a favourite no matter what, so I just try to race as hard as a I can the next few days and also at the Tour of Britain and we will see.”
Between the Arctic Race of Norway and the Tour of Britain, which begins on September 7, Van der Poel will spend 10 days at an altitude training camp, likely to be in the Sierra Nevada. His final preparation for the Worlds will come in the form of a couple of Belgian semi-classics.