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Van der Poel to return to MTB racing in 2023

Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) at the Olympic Games
Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) at the Olympic Games (Image credit: Getty Images)

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.

"In 2023 it is the intention to get back into the mountain bike routine," Van der Poel said in an interview with WielerFlits

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 an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.