Mathieu van der Poel has confirmed that he will not race mountain bikes this season and will return to the off-road discipline in 2023. The Dutchman is currently leading the overall classification at the Giro d'Italia and has indicated targets at the Tour de France in July and UCI Road World Championships in September.
The decision to take a sabbatical from mountain biking was made in consultation with his trade team Alpecin-Fenix. He has not confirmed his mountain bike campaign for next season but he confirmed that he will shift focus toward the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
“Then I want to work towards the Olympic Games in Paris," he said.
The Olympic Games cross country event will take place in Elancourt, where there is a track that is said to resemble Nove Mesto, an event he won in 2019. Competing in the UCI World Cup events next season will be an important step for acquiring points toward the rolling ranking system leading up to the qualification process to the Olympic Games.
Last year, Van der Poel competed in a range of UCI MTB World Cup winning the short track event and finishing seventh cross-country event in Albstadt. He went on to win the short track event and place second behind Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) in the cross-country race in Nove Mesto.
He arrived to the Tokyo Olympic Games as a major favourite for the men's cross-country event but crashed on a drop-off section on the opening lap. He later blamed the crash on a misunderstanding surrounding the removal of a safety plank which had been present on the drop-off during the training sessions. Pidcock was crowned Olympic champion in Tokyo.
Doctors cleared him of any fractures follow the review of x-rays taken in hospital. However, Van der Poel reported back pain that had been lingering since earlier that spring and through the second half of last season. The injury was reportedly exacerbated by switching between his road bike and mountain bike last spring.
Although he later returned to road racing and finished third at Paris-Roubaix in October, in December, he was diagnosed with swelling on an intervertebral disc and told that only complete rest would give it a chance to heal fully, and he was forced to cut-short his cyclo-cross campaign.
He was cleared to begin training full-time in February and began his season at Milan-San Remo where he finished third. He has since gone on to win a stage at Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Tour of Flanders.
In a sparkling start to his Grand Tours campaign this year, Van der Poel won the opening stage at the Giro d'Italia in Visegrád, claiming the event's first maglia rosa.
He finished second in the stage 2 time trial in Budapest, and maintained his overall lead through stage 3 won by Mark Cavendish in Balatonfürd. The Giro d'Italia resumes, following the Monday rest day, with stage 4 on Tuesday to the summit of Mount Etna, where the Dutchman recognised that his time in pink may run out.
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Kirsten Frattini is the Deputy Editor of Cyclingnews, overseeing the global racing content plan.
Kirsten has a background in Kinesiology and Health Science. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's biggest races, reporting on the WorldTour, Spring Classics, Tours de France, World Championships and Olympic Games.
She began her sports journalism career with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. In 2018, Kirsten became Women's Editor – overseeing the content strategy, race coverage and growth of women's professional cycling – before becoming Deputy Editor in 2023.