Mathieu van der Poel will be looking to make it a hat-trick of European cyclo-cross titles in Italy on Sunday, saying that he's "excited and motivated" to race for the win in Silvelle on only his second day of his 'cross season.
The Corendon-Circus man heads to the UEC European Cyclo-cross Championships with a win on his return to the discipline under his belt. Van der Poel took the win at the fourth round of the Superprestige series at Ruddervoorde, beating Laurens Sweeck by 23 seconds.
Young pretenders to the throne Eli Iserbyt and Tom Pidcock finished fifth and sixth at the race, having battled at Koppenbergcross just two days earlier, but Van der Poel still has his eye on the duo, and sees a challenging race ahead.
"Before Ruddervoorde, I said that I expected Eli Iserbyt and Tom Pidcock [to be good]," he said in a press release issued by the UEC. "Both missed the podium last Sunday, but I assume they still felt the terrific Koppenberg, so I expect Iserbyt and Pidcock again in Silvelle.
"Both riders already showed they are in good shape and both riders like a hard race. Besides them, I'll keep an eye out for riders like Toon Aerts and Laurens Sweeck, but a lot will depend on the course condition and the weather conditions.
"I’m excited and motivated to get a third European Title, but it won’t be an easy day out," he added.
The Dutchman sat out the early portion of the cyclo-cross season, missing the opening three rounds of the Superprestige and the UCI World Cup, as well as the opening round of the DVV Trofee, the Koppenbergcross.
His rest period came after an extended road season that saw him take wins through the spring, including at Amstel Gold Race, before competing on the mountain bike in the summer. He ended the year with a dominant display at the Tour of Britain and a strong challenge at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire.
But he wasn't sad to watch the early stages of the cyclo-cross season from the sideline, insisting that it was all planned in order to get back to his top level.
"Was it hard for me to watch the early season fixtures on television? No, we made a plan, so we stick to the plan," he said. "I really needed some rest after some hard months combining road races and the cross-country races, and 2020 will be definitely a tough year.
"Of course, I’m really happy to return to cyclo-cross, but no it was not hard to watch the races. I’m now totally focused on my own cyclo-cross season with the World Championships as main goal."
The European Championships, then, are something of a side-goal, though Van der Poel still goes into Sunday's race as the overwhelming favourite for victory, despite a lack of knowledge about the course, which should be a challenging one due to its thick mud.
"I have not been to Silvelle or on the course before," he said. "I don’t talk a lot about the past with my father [Former professional, Adri – Ed]. But of course if he knows something important about Sunday's race course, he will tell me."