Van der Poel, according to the team, suffered a tear inside his knee as a result of an earlier crash and developed scar tissue that was painless but, since he was already off the bike, opted to have removed. The operation took place on January 8 and a later examination by Van der Poel's doctor, Toon Claes, was 'positive'.
During his build-up to the December block of racing, Van der Poel suffered a large gash to his knee that did not require stitches but was slow to heal and forced him to delay his season debut. He was off the bike for a week before the Alpecin-Fenix team camp because of the wound and skipped the Rucphen World Cup on December 18.
Van der Poel raced to second behind rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) in his first race of the season at the Dendermonde World Cup on December 26, but dropped out of the Superprestige in Heusden-Zolder, the following day because of a back injury from earlier in 2021 that had flared up.
The knee surgery was unrelated to his back, the team said. It is unknown when Van der Poel can return to training and racing but his team said he would not come back until he was completely pain-free.
The 26-year-old was diagnosed with "a swelling on an intervertebral disc" in his back. He had suffered from pain since early in the 2021 season, likely due to the demands of switching from his cyclo-cross bike after winning the World Championships in Oostende to the road, racing the UAE Tour three weeks later.
After an intense early road season, which included a stage win in the UAE Tour before Alpecin-Fenix was forced to leave because of a COVID-19 positive within the team, the victory in Strade Bianche, two stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico, and second place in the Tour of Flanders, Van der Poel switched to the mountain bike to compete in two World Cups ahead of the Olympic Games. He then came back to the road, won a stage at the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for six days before leaving for Tokyo.
Van der Poel's violent crash in the opening lap of the Olympic Games cross country event did not affect his back, according to his team manager, but the pain forced him to delay his return to road racing. He eventually regained his form and finished third in Paris-Roubaix.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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