Mathieu van der Poel has certainly taken the U23 ranks by storm as the 18-year-old Dutchman has already notched six victories in the opening months of his debut in his new age division. Van der Poel has won two U23 World Cups (and leads overall in the series), three U23 Superprestige events (and leads overall in the series) and also prevailed at the first round of the Bpost Bank Trofee series. He's placed second in the U23 European championship and third at both the opening U23 World Cup round as well as the U23 Koppenbergcross.
The son of Adri van der Poel, a cyclo-cross world champion as well as winner of both the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and grandson of Raymond Poulidor, Vuelta a Espana champion and perennial Tour de France podium finisher, the young Dutchman had already shown his class with back-to-back junior cyclo-cross world championships (2012-2013) as well as a junior road race world championship (2013) just prior to his current 'cross season.
With a seamless transition to U23 division well underway much attention was played on Van der Poel's elite-level debut today at the UCI C1-rated Scheldecross in Antwerp, Belgium, and the young Dutchman certainly rose to the occasion. Van der Poel, set to transition from the Enertherm-BKCP development squad to its professional team BKCP-Powerplus on January 1, 2014, was part of a team sweep of the podium at Scheldecross as he finished second between winner Niels Albert and third-placed Philipp Walsleben.
Van der Poel crossed the finish line just five seconds down on Albert, who acknowledged the Dutchman's feat by turning and pointing back at Van der Poel as he approached the line, and eight seconds ahead of German champion Walsleben. Van der Poel enthusiastically proclaimed on Twitter that he surprised himself and really enjoyed the final lap, while soon-to-be teammate Niels Albert sung the praises of the young Dutchman after the race.
"I see him work and I know what he can do," said Albert. "He is not only technically strong, but he also has power. He has the power needed to make the race and to win."
Albert recently had plenty of time to assess Van der Poel's potential face-to-face as members of BKCP-Powerplus and Enertherm-BKCP had just wrapped up a 10-day mid-'cross season camp in Benicassim, Spain.
Albert was not surprised by the result and even discussed with Van der Poel beforehand that he might gift the Dutchman the race if they arrived at the finish together, but the Belgian nevertheless kept the pressure on during the final lap as he soloed to victory.
"When I heard that Mathieu rode alone in the chase I briefly considered waiting," said Albert. "But relative to the [race] organisation and my other teammates that would not have been correct."
"I'm glad he didn't wait," said Van der Poel."If I win a race then I want to fully win."