Interview with Mathieu Van der Poel before Tour of Flandern

Interview with Mathieu Van der Poel before Tour of Flandern

Mathieu van der Poel feels ready to defend his title at the Tour of Flanders. The two-time winner steamed himself up in Spain last week. “There I put in some extra work in ideal weather-conditions to be fine in both the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix,” he says.

A quick look back of your victory in Milan-San Remo. Did that one provide extra serenity?

“That for sure! When you’ve won a monument, it always makes racing a bit easier afterwards. Milan-San Remo was one of my big goals. Nice that I now have it on my list of achievements. But that doesn’t mean I will be at the start in Bruges with less ambition.”

You chose to train in Spain this week. That was more important than a recon?

“True. I’ve done the Ronde a few times now. I know the course. Last Friday I also rode the E3 Harelbeke, partly on the same roads. Then I preferred to fly to the Spanish coast to finalise my preparation. Of course, the good weather conditions there were also a determining factor.”

Did you finish any tough training sessions?

“I’ve noticed in the past that I was usually just a bit less in Paris-Roubaix than in the Tour of Flanders. I wanted to avoid that this year. Sunday (the day of Ghent-Wevelgem) I completed one last really long training session, but also the following days some longer trips were on the menu with extra accents to be at my best the coming week. The last days I obviously built in some rest, to keep the freshness.”

Your last race was E3 Harelbeke. With what feeling did you get off the bike there?

“I found myself riding a very strong race there. Of course I would have preferred to win, but Wout was just a bit stronger in the sprint. On the climbs I definitely felt among the best in the race and that’s what I remember. Although you can’t quite compare E3 with the Ronde, which is still a lot longer.”

Everyone is talking about the ‘big three’: Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar and yourself are the big favourites. How do you rate yourself?

“Before the race I’m definitely not going to pin myself down on a three-way battle. The race is unpredictable. There can be good riders who anticipate. And there may be riders who emerge who have worked differently, more specifically towards the Ronde and will also be able to survive the crucial passages on Sunday. It’s too easy to say the three of us are going to come out on top.”

Alpecin-Deceuninck is strengthened in width, but Søren Kragh Andersen has had a cold in recent days, Michael Gogl has just returned from illness. While Jumbo-Visma as a team dominates the cobbled classics… What does this mean for Sunday?

“Everyone has seen that Jumbo-Visma stands out. After what they have shown in recent weeks, it is logical that they will be looked at. But that does not take away from the fact that I think we too have to take the initiative when it is needed.”

Assuming Tadej Pogacar and Wout van Aert do become your main rivals. Which of the two do you fear the most?

“They are both dangerous in their own way. Tadej prefers to ride alone to the finish. He will try to ride away from us on the hills. Then again, Wout is the most difficult customer in the sprint.”

What is your ideal scenario?

“The past three editions we rode to the finish with two. Coming in alone would be something special, but it’s not obvious because after the Paterberg it’s a long way to Oudenaarde and not comparable to the final of Milan-San Remo. Anyway, I’m hoping for a scenario where I’m competing for a third win.”

With a third win, you would immediately become a co-record holder. Have you already thought about that?

“I knew about it, but I haven’t thought about it yet. Winning the Tour of Flanders once, that was a goal. But I definitely don’t pin myself down on a number. It would be nice though.”

What do you take away from your previous Tours?

“You take the experience with you, of course. When and where to position properly. You know the important passages. But good legs is a bigger requirement than that experience. You may master all the parts like the best, if you don’t have the legs on Sunday, it doesn’t buy you anything.”

How do you personally compare your form with last year?

“That’s a difficult one. Because of back problems, the run-up last year was atypical, but in the end I made it to my very best level that day. Now I feel I’m more ‘course-ready’. Last year I also succeeded with a slightly less broad base, but then the peak lasts just a bit less long. In Roubaix, the legs were already a bit less. That will be hopefully different this year.”