Mathieu van der Poel may only ride one week of 2024 Tour de France

Road world champion has decisions to make on schedule, with the Paris Olympics mountain bike event a priority

Clock11:30, Friday 22nd September 2023
Mathieu van der Poel took his first victory in the rainbow bands at the Super 8 Classic

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Mathieu van der Poel took his first victory in the rainbow bands at the Super 8 Classic

Mathieu van der Poel's racing calendar has been the topic of many a conversation over the past few months, with the Dutchman making a few late-season appearances in his rainbow jersey earned in the World Championships Road Race in August.

With an eye slowly turning to 2024, Dutch publication Wielerflits has spoken to Van der Poel's national coaches, Gerben de Knegt and Coos Moerenhout, about his plans for 2024.

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With Van der Poel being, unequivocally, the best one-day rider in the men's peloton, you might imagine his racing calendar for next season almost picks itself. The Alpecin-Deceuninck leader surely wants to defend his Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix titles, as well as possibly making a tilt to one of only two Monuments he is yet to win: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. However, a complication is thrown into Van der Poel's plans in the form of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

As well as being the world's best Classics specialist and a Grand Tour stage winner, Van der Poel also excels in mountain biking and has his heart set on challenging for Olympic gold next summer. His preparation, in fact, is already beginning, with the 28-year-old riding the Olympic Test Event in Elancourt this coming Sunday.

Van der Poel looks to Paris 2024 to avenge missed opportunity from Tokyo 2020

"Only after this weekend do we know what that course looks like and what plans we can make for it," De Knegt, his mountain bike coach, told Wielerflits. “I tried to get info about that course in all kinds of ways, but that's very limited. In Elancourt there is a hill 250 meters high, you can go in more directions with it.

"It can be a climbing course with two long climbs, or an interval course with multiple short slopes. It may just be the case that Mathieu thinks very differently about his mountain bike ambitions in Paris after Sunday."

All it takes is one look at Van der Poel's palmarès to see that the Dutchman is a master of peaking at the right moments, with the multi-disciplinary a five-time cyclocross world champion, current road race world champion, former European mountain bike champion, and a winner of three of cycling's Monuments - Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

However, Van der Poel knows possibly better than anybody how precious opportunities like the World Championships and Olympic Games are in sport. His entire 2021 season was similarly geared towards the Tokyo Olympic Games and whilst his form was good, the opportunity came and went when he crashed out of the cross-country mountain bike event.

On that day, the absence of a ramp on the course had led to a crash that derailed his medal ambitions. In light of this, the desire to right this wrong will burn all the brighter as he casts his eye towards 2024.

Will Van der Poel even ride the 2024 Tour de France?

The sight of the world champion racing at the Tour de France has not been seen since Julian Alaphilippe in 2021, but Van der Poel's presence at next year's race is anything but guaranteed.

"I've said before that my ideal preparation for Mathieu is one without the Tour, or until the first rest day," admitted De Knegt. "That's because mountain biking requires more specific preparation. Tom Pidcock is going to focus entirely on mountain biking and that is a very difficult opponent for him. If Mathieu does too, then I think he can be close to gold.”

Both Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Van der Poel rode the entire Tour de France this summer before the World Championships mountain bike events, but the British rider spoke about the disparity between his preparation for the World Championships, and that of his rivals such as Nino Schurter and Sam Gaze.

Read more: 'None of my rivals at the Tour will be trying to win the mountain bike World Championships straight after the race' - Tom Pidcock

De Knegt and Moerenhout are not necessarily on the same page over whether or not Van der Poel should ride the Tour, ride the Tour just for a week or even ride the Tour in its entirety next summer. The Olympic XCO event is scheduled for July 29 next year, which is eight days after the Tour de France is due to finish in Nice.

Two years ago, Van der Poel rode only the first eight days of the Tour before pulling out to concentrate on the Tokyo Olympics, but opinion is still out on what the best approach may be for Paris.

“Just as was the case now with the World Cup, which he won. And the winner is always right,” joked Moerenhout, his national road coach. “But that is a plan that Mathieu has to go through with his own Alpecin-Deceuninck team. Also how active he rides the Tour. That all has to do with each other, including the route before the Tour. You have to avoid arriving during such big championships with a worn-out rider.”

This is a fear that is at the front of De Knegt's mind, with his preference for Van der Poel to replicate his preparation from 2021.

“Then he was very well in order. If you do the whole Tour, it also means that you don't touch the mountain bike for three weeks and you only have eight days to sharpen the feeling on that bike again," were his words, no doubt with a thought on Van der Poel's recent crash at the World Championships in Scotland.

Read more: UCI World Championships: Tom Pidcock takes the cross-country mountain bike title in Glentress, as Van der Poel crashes out

But for Moerenhout, the decision should rest on Van der Poel's shoulders, with the Tour de France not necessarily a hindrance to mountain bike preparation.

“I leave that accountability to Mathieu himself. If he goes for something, then he also goes for the best preparation," the Dutchman said. "He is so professional, I have that trust in him and Mathieu deserves that too. I also had that with Tom Dumoulin in the past. In my opinion, the Tour should not be wrong in preparation for the Olympic road race. An added value, even.”

Focus on the Olympic Games, but cyclocross will begin soon for Van der Poel

One thing that leaps out from the comments of both national coaches is that whilst the schedule remains up in the air, the priority for Van der Poel will be on the Olympic Games next season.

The Dutchman may be sporting the rainbow bands as world champion on the road next season, but it is understandable that his focus will be geared towards Paris 2024. Van der Poel missed out on a medal two years ago in Tokyo and will be 33 years old by the time the 2028 Summer Olympics roll around, so the time is now for the Dutchman to strike on sport's grandest stage.

There is also some debate within the national team over Van der Poel's participation in the Olympic road race, shortly after the mountain bike event. More comments from Moerenhout, along with information over the strange rules of team allocations in the event, can be found in the Wielerflits interview.

But for now, Van der Poel's attention will soon turn to the muddy fields of cyclocross, in which he too will wear the rainbow bands as world champion. His calendar has yet to be revealed, but the 'cross season is already underway.

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There is no doubt that the first time Van der Poel, Pidock and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) clash in the 2023/24 cyclocross season will be one of the year's most hotly-anticipated events.

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