The Tour of Flanders is unpredictable – Interview with Mathieu van der Poel
Mathieu van der Poel will contest the Tour of Flanders for the fifth time on April 2 and is one of the top favorites. Not least due to his success in the first Monument of the year Milan-Sanremo. Alpecin Cycling had the chance on Friday to ask Mathieu van der Poel a few questions before the race.
For anyone who has followed the one-day races so far this spring, it seems clear and obvious that there will be a three-way battle between Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar and Mathieu van der Poel at the Tour of Flanders – just like at the E3 Saxo Classic a week and a half ago.
But which of the other two pros does van der Poel consider more dangerous: “They are both dangerous in their own way. Tadej prefers to finish alone. He will try to get away on the hills. Wout is a very strong and crafty competitor in the sprint.”
“The Tour of Flanders is unpredictable”
However, van der Poel also sees other riders who could be in contention for victory: “Before the race, I definitely won’t commit to a three-way fight. The race is unpredictable. There can be good riders who anticipate. And there can be riders who have worked differently, more purposefully towards the Ronde and can also survive the decisive passages on Sunday. It’s too easy to say that the three of us will come out on top in the end.”
Incidentally, the Dutchman thinks little of a master plan or a fixed strategy in a race like the Ronde: “We always try to adapt to the situation. You can have a great plan in advance, but you don’t know how the race will go.”
“From the second time Oude Kwaremont begins the final”
The Alpecin-Deceuninck pro believes the first decisive attacks will come at the second crossing of the Oude Kwaremont: “Just like always. After that, the climbs follow each other in quick succession.” For him, the key point in the race does not exist: “There are so many. It can always happen on a different climb. It’s hard to name a specific spot, but if I had to choose one: the Koppenberg. That can be the key moment, I’ve found that a few times.”
He says he likes the final two laps: “From the second time Oude Kwaremont to the finish, I like the Ronde parcours best. The hills follow each other in quick succession, and the best in the race automatically get to the front. That’s the most fun. In previous years, I also liked the start in Antwerp, just 15 kilometers from my home. It was familiar terrain that I come to often and felt special. Bruges, on the other hand, is something I’m a little less familiar with,” says van der Poel about the new “old” start location.
“Good legs are more important than experience”
For van der Poel it will be already the fifth start at this monument on Sunday. He has never finished worse than fourth and has already won the Ronde twice. Does he see that as an advantage? “You take the experience with you, of course: When and where you position yourself correctly. You know the important points. But having good legs is more decisive than that experience. You can master all the sections like the best, but if you don’t have the legs on Sunday, it won’t do you any good.”
“I am better prepared than I was in 2022”
When he took part in 2022, which he won, his preparation in the winter and spring was not ideal due to injury. How does he see himself today in comparison? “Because of the back problems, the preparation last year was atypical. But in the end I showed my best performance that day. Now I have the feeling that I am better prepared for the track. In 2022 I also rode with a slightly less wide base. Then the peak – that is, the top form – doesn’t last as long. At Paris-Roubaix, my legs weren’t quite as good. Hopefully that will be different this year.”
“The Sanremo victory takes the pressure off”
Unlike his rivals, his success at Milan-Sanremo means he’s already won a major one-day race and can compete more liberated. “In any case, winning Sanremo takes the pressure off for the Ronde and Roubaix. When you’ve won a Monument, you ride much more relaxed afterwards. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less ambitious.”
Asked hypothetically which races he would prefer to win in 2023 if he only had one chance, he replied, “If I really had to choose, it would be Paris-Roubaix. Simply because I haven’t won that yet.”