Mathieu van der Poel returns to Spain to prepare for Liège-Bastogne-Liège

After a disappointing result at Amstel Gold Race, the world champion will enjoy a few days in the sun before challenging Tadej Pogačar in the last Spring Classic

Clock12:58, Monday 15th April 2024
Mathieu van der Poel usually pulls off something special when in the full-white world champion's skinsuit, but Sunday did not go his way

© Getty Images

Mathieu van der Poel usually pulls off something special when in the full-white world champion's skinsuit, but Sunday did not go his way

Just a few hours after his Amstel Gold Race disappointment on Sunday, Mathieu van der Poel was on a flight from the Netherlands to Spain, as the Alpecin-Deceuninck leader looks to prepare for his final big target of the early season, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Having already won E3 Saxo Classic, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the best spring of his glittering career, Van der Poel will hope to win his fourth of the five Monuments on Sunday – and a third in a row this year – but at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he will be challenged by the race favourite and previous winner, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

To best prepare his body and mind for the clash between the two titans, Van der Poel has travelled to Spain to enjoy a few days of training in the sun. The current forecast in Alicante, where Van der Poel prepared between his Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix triumphs, currently sports bright sunshine for most of the week.

"I'll enjoy the good weather and a few more last efforts uphill," said Van der Poel, according to Het Nieuwsblad.

The current world champion admitted that he will need better legs than in Amstel Gold Race should he want to beat Pogačar and a fleet of would-be contenders on Sunday.

"That will be necessary, yes. That race is even harder. And of course, there is also one Pogačar.”

The 29-year-old has only ridden Liège-Bastogne-Liège on one occasion, placing sixth in 2020, but with Flanders, Roubaix and Milan-San Remo titles to his name, only Liège and Il Lombardia remain unvanquished for Van der Poel to have won all five of cycling's illustrious Monuments.

Read more: Alpecin-Deceuninck conquer Paris-Roubaix: ‘Mathieu is at the best level we have ever seen’

Might Liège-Bastogne-Liège be too hilly for Van der Poel?

Il Lombardia will be a tough nut for a man of Van der Poel's size to crack, but so too will this Sunday's race, otherwise known as La Doyenne. Last year's Lombardia route – won by Pogačar – tasked the peloton with 4,364m of climbing, which is only 16m more than this year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Van der Poel's performance in Liège in 2020 will give him hope, leading home the second group on the road just six seconds adrift of race winner Primož Roglič. So too will his domineering victories in the previous two Monuments, but his remarkable legs from Flanders and Roubaix deserted him on the roads of Amstel Gold Race at the weekend.

Read more: Human after all: Mathieu van der Poel’s invincibility ends at Amstel Gold Race

According to Van der Poel and his team boss Christoph Roodhooft, however, his 22nd placing on Sunday may well be a blessing in disguise for the race ahead. With the shine somewhat taken off Van der Poel's stature as unbeatable, perhaps there will be less pressure put on the Dutchman and Alpecin-Deceuninck at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"That always makes things easier," said Roofhooft, per Het Nieuwsblad. "Because Mathieu is indeed looked at quite fiercely."

Over the final climbs at Amstel Gold Race, with his teammate Gianni Vermeersch out of the race through sickness, Quinten Hermans suffering the effects of a crash, and Axel Laurance having already fired his bullets, the eyes of Van der Poel's rivals were cast on the world champion to mark out attacking moves.

But not feeling the same diamonds in his legs as in previous weeks, Van der Poel refused their gambit and in doing so, looked to send a message ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 'It is not always up to me to work'.

"I have already won two Monuments, I have the luxury of being able to gamble," he said.

With that in mind and with Pogačar sure to start this weekend's Monument as the outstanding favourite over such hilly terrain, Van der Poel can seek his latest conquest without the same pressure that fell on his shoulders heading into Flanders and Roubaix.

He will just hope that a few days in Spain will revitalise his form ahead of Sunday's showdown.

For the latest news, interviews and analysis from the world of professional cycling, be sure to check out the Racing tab on the GCN website and visit our essential guide to the Spring Classics to stay up to date with all of the action from cycling's most exciting season.

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