Mathieu van der Poel will only return to cyclo-cross action when he feels no pain from his back injury, according to Alpecin-Fenix team manager Christoph Roodhooft. Meanwhile, the Dutch rider's physiotherapist has suggested his 'body is paying the price' for years of competing across multiple disciplines.
Van der Poel, who returned to action with a second place at the UCI World Cup in Dendermonde on Boxing Day, abandoned the Superprestige race in Heusden-Zolder the next day, and was later diagnosed with swelling on an intervertebral disc.
It was announced that he would miss Thursday's Azencross and the Sunday's World Cup round in Hulst before possibly returning, though he's set to be off the bike until his issue can be resolved.
"We are waiting to see how his back injury will develop," Roodhooft told Belgian news agency Belga. "He should also be able to resume training because without that there is no question of competing in races. We are going to look at the matter calmly."
Van der Poel has suffered with back pain since a MTB World Cup round in Albstadt back in May and was forced to alter his late-season schedule because of it, missing the Benelux Tour and MTB World Championships as a result.
He returned to action for several races in September and October, including the Road Worlds and Paris-Roubaix, before taking four weeks off the bike in October to solve his back issue. The pain returned on Monday, however, and now the Dutchman faces another spell on the sidelines.
"The back injury has been bothering him for a while," said Roodhooft. "His fall at the Tokyo Olympics probably didn't affect it, but it won't have helped either. We're not worried about it because doing that won't get you anywhere. The problem has to be solved and we'll continue to see how it goes.
"The big problem is not that he has to miss cyclo-cross races, but that Mathieu is not pain free. Because of that nagging pain he doesn't have his full capabilities. He can't train to get better and that's terribly annoying. We'll wait and see when his return will be possible."
Paying the price
According to Van der Poel's physiotherapist, David Bombeke, the problem should not be chronic but is linked to competing at full tilt in a range of disciplines for a number of years.
"This is actually the result of the many attacks he has committed on his body, from mountain biking to cycling on the road, to cyclo-cross and BMX in the past," Bombeke told Het Nieuwsblad. "His body is now paying the price."
Van der Poel was set to ride five races in January in the run-up to the World Championships on January 30 – including the Dutch National Championships on January 9. Now, the remainder of his cyclo-cross campaign looks to be up in the air, with no guarantees on whether he will make a return before it's over.
The big question mark surrounds the World Championships in the USA at the end of January, where Van der Poel was set to target a fifth rainbow jersey.
"It is a bit premature to look at the World Championships now, but of course it is true that there is not much time left," said Bombeke.
"If you ride the World Championships, you have to be good and, in my view, a month is a fairly short time frame to get in top shape. It's not just my personal opinion that counts, because I'm not affiliated with the team, but, if I may say what I think, rest should really be the priority now, no matter how much time it takes."
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