Mathieu van der Poel appears to be running out of time to be competitive in the spring Classics, with his father Adrie revealing that the Alpecin-Fenix rider is still experiencing back pain and is 'just sitting at home on the couch'.
Van der Poel has been suffering with a back problem since last summer and was not at his best at the Road World Championships in September. He recovered from a knee injury and his back issues to start his cyclo-cross campaign during the holidays but abandoned the Superprestige race in Heusden-Zolder on December 27 and was later diagnosed with swelling on an intervertebral disc.
He was forced to miss the Cyclo-cross World Championships in the hope of salvaging some of his spring campaign but has missed close to a month of vital pre-season road training.
He is unlikely to ride many of the early-season races of the next six weeks, including the Belgian 'Opening Weekend', which begins with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 26. Strade Bianche, which he won in 2021, is on March 5, and the Tour of Flanders, which he won in 2019, is on April 3.
Adrie van der Poel hopes his son will be back on the bike in the next few days, so that he has a reason not to watch the cyclo-cross World Championships from the couch on Sunday. Van der Poel would have been one of the favourites to win the rainbow jersey in the absence of Wout van Aert.
"I don't think Mathieu will watch. Hopefully he will be able to ride some bikes by then," Adrie told VTM Nieuws during Sunday’s final cyclo-cross World Cup race in Hoogerheide, where he helped design the route.
"He's doing okay. He can ride again when he is pain free, but right now he's just sitting at home on the couch. There is not much he can do, he has been prescribed strict rest and he has to stick to it."
Reports have attributed van der Poel’s injury to switching between his road bike and mountain bike as he balanced an ambitious road campaign with preparation for last summer’s Olympic Games. After finishing second at Tour of Flanders, he raced two MTB World Cups, then returned to the road for the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France, where he won the second stage and wore the yellow jersey for six days before dropping out to prepare for Tokyo.
He crashed hard in the men's cross-country medal event but that was not believed to have worsened his back pain. However, he left an August altitude training camp early and delayed his return to the road because of the back injury.
"The problem has been there for some time, and I am somewhat relieved that there is an identifiable cause that can be remedied with extra rest and treatment," Van der Poel said when his injury first disrupted his cyclo-cross campaign.
"Everyone knows that the World Championships in the United States is the first big goal of 2022, but it is certainly not the only or the last one. I want to fully recover first, without time pressure so that I can use my full possibilities. I will therefore only resume competition when I'm completely ready."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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