In an interview with Belgian magazine Humo, Van der Poel discussed his ‘generation’, naming Van Aert and Evenepoel as his leading contemporaries, along with Julian Alaphilippe and Marc Hirschi.
"They have it all," he said. "Professional cycling is becoming more like youth cycling again. There is open racing and attacking. For me and my contemporaries it goes without saying to race like this - we've always done it that way."
Van der Poel acknowledged that Evenepoel can only just be considered part of that generation, given the Belgian is still only 20. However, with victories in every stage race he entered in 2020 – his second season as a pro after skipping the U23 ranks – he has already taken the sport by storm.
"What he can do now, I couldn't at that age. Riding such solos and winning every round in which you participate: that is unseen," Van der Poel said.
Van der Poel added that Evenepoel blurs the line between confidence and arrogance, but always backs it up on the bike. The former footballer is never shy about stating his ambitions, and has attracted criticism in some corners over his showmanship, such as his ‘shoulder brush’ celebration at the Vuelta a Burgos.
"I sometimes find his statements borderline, but everyone is the way he is. If he wants to say things that way, he should do it," Van der Poel said.
"This may seem arrogant to us, but in his view it probably mainly shows self-confidence. Well, he may make great statements, but he often answers with the pedals too. I also said that I want to become world champion in the three disciplines, plus Olympic champion on the mountain bike. These are also ambitious statements."
If Van der Poel has rarely spoken about Evenepoel, he’s much more accustomed to being asked about Van Aert, his old cyclo-cross foe who is now is rival at the top level on the road. The pair clashed over tactics at Gent-Wevelgem in October before fighting it out together at the Tour of Flanders, but Van der Poel dismissed the notion that they should always be mentioned in the same breath.
"Sometimes it doesn't make sense. What Van Aert has done in the Tour – riding in front of someone else – is not my ambition. I don't even know if I could. But as long as I have not ridden a Tour, such comparisons make no sense," he said.
"Nobody says that Van Aert should now prove himself in mountain biking. We have both chosen our path. He has taken the direction of road cycling, but I have only partly done so because I also want to continue to focus on mountain biking. But Wout and I owe each other a lot. We make each other better and more popular – we realize that."
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