With the Tour of Flanders a week away, Mathieu van der Poel's team manager Christoph Roodhooft has said that the Dutchman will be among the favourites for the race, even if he can't yet be considered the main favourite like his long-time rival Wout van Aert.
Van der Poel made a surprise return to racing at last week's Milan-San Remo, where he took third place following a long rehabilitation from a back issue that affected him for much of the 2021 season.
On Friday, he took the win on stage 4 of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, making the early breakaway before attacking solo and then winning the bunch sprint when he was caught. The 27-year-old has clearly hit great form very quickly, but Roodhooft was cautious about his chances at De Ronde.
"I find it very difficult to say where he stands – he is really good already," Alpecin-Fenix boss Roodhooft told WielerFlits (opens in new tab). "There will probably still be room for improvement but right now Mathieu is at the point where he can have a bad, good, or super day which makes the difference between winning or not. He's no longer behind in his fitness anymore, is what I mean."
Roodhooft confirmed that Van der Poel currently doesn't have any issues with his back, something he noted after finishing Milan-San Remo. That race, as well as Coppi e Bartali, are quite different from taking on the Belgian cobbles, though.
"It's completely different," Roodhooft said of Coppi e Bartali. "You can't compare that third place in Milan-San Remo with De Ronde either. That is a race in itself, with very different riders, a different hectic pace and a different dynamic. It remains to be seen how he performs there. But of course, I do expect him to be at a high level – that's pretty clear.
"Mathieu will be fine in the Tour of Flanders," he added. "But is he top top top in the order? No. Is he one of the favourites? He is. Only in cycling you lose much more often than you win, and only one will triumph next Sunday.
"Is that someone with a super day, or does someone from the expected 10 to 15 names fight their way to victory? Mathieu van der Poel will be there. But whether he has that super day to win, we don't know, and neither does he."
After finishing Coppi e Bartali with another hilly stage on Saturday afternoon, Van der Poel is set to head back to Belgium for a final tune-up ahead of Flanders. He'll line up at the start of the Dwars door Vlaanderen in Roeselaere.
"The work is done," said Roodhooft, noting that his lead-up to Flanders will be the same as it was in 2019, when he finished fourth at the race, and in 2021, when he was second to Kasper Asgreen in a two-up sprint finish.
A return to Amstel Gold Race, which he sensationally won in 2019, had been on the cards the week after Flanders. However, Van der Poel's earlier than expected return seems to have thrown some doubt on his participation, with Paris-Roubaix following a week later.
"We are first going to see how he digests Dwars and Flanders," Roodhooft said. "Flanders is a completely different course in relation to the strain on the body than, for example, Milan-San Remo.
"We'll wait and see his reaction to the race, then we will look further. In the case of Mathieu van der Poel, we can always free up a spot in the selection for the Amstel Gold Race.
"He's hungry, but that doesn't mean he's not intelligent, eh? Mathieu also realises well enough that you can't put the cart before the horse. It is to everyone's advantage to stay calm now, including his."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.