Mathieu van der Poel: I’d prefer to win the Olympics than wear the yellow jersey...but maybe it’s possible to do both

The superstar rider will compete in his first Tour de France just days before switching to the mountain bike for the Olympics

Mathieu van der Poel in the World Cup round
(Image credit: PA Images)

Mathieu van der Poel admits he’d rather win Olympic gold than wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, but didn’t write off the possibility of both.  

The cross discipline superstar will be racing his maiden Tour de France this summer, as his team Alpecin-Fenix have been invited to compete for the first time. 

But with just 12 days between the end of the Tour and the Olympic mountain bike race in Tokyo, Van der Poel faces a challenge if he wants to perform in both events.

The 26-year-old Dutchman is currently competing in World Cup mountain bike events, in the hopes of scoring enough UCI points for a strong starting position in the Olympic MTB race on July 26. 

Van der Poel admits that having the Tour and the Olympics so close is far from ideal, but that due to the coronavirus pandemic he has been forced to adapt.

Speaking during a Zoom press conference ahead of the World Cup round in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic this weekend, Van der Poel said: “For sure it’s not ideal but like I said I don't have everything in my hands.

“I would have preferred to do the Olympics last year and the Tour this year but it's not something I can choose this year, so we have to deal with it and try to be as best prepared as we can.”

Van der Poel raced his first MTB event of the season last weekend in Albstadt, Germany, winning the short track event and then finishing seventh in the main event. 

But Van der Poel admits he was slightly disappointed with the performance, saying he struggles with back problems when switching from the road bike to the MTB. 

He said: “I had mixed feelings. I always hope for more, but I know that the preparation was quite short. We also discussed with my trainer that the shape is not where it needs to be to be but I hope to do a little bit better this weekend in Nove Mesto.

“It’s always been a bit of an adaptation for me to switch to the mountain bike because of the different position, the  steep climbs, you really have to push from the back as well, and I've had it for the past few years. I also need a couple of hard training sessions or races to get used to the position again.” 

Van der Poel, who said he’s able to deal with the constant pressure from fans and the media because he still puts more pressure on himself, admits that the Olympics is still his main goal, but that he will relish the opportunity to compete in his first Tour de France. 

The cyclocross world champion and Tour of Flanders winner said: “It's a difficult way to go to the Olympics, through the Tour de France.

“But the importance for the team and a sponsor is also on the Tour so I understand that I have to be there.  

“I don't think skipping [the Tour de France] is an option. It's pretty obvious that I have to be part of the first Tour de France and I don't really see it as an obligation either, it's just really cool to be part of it and we'll see how it turns out.”

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With two hilly stages opening the 2020 Tour de France in Brittany, Van der Poel will be among the pre-race favourites to take an early stage victory. 

On whether he would prefer to wear the yellow jersey early in the Tour or win Olympic gold, Van der Poel said: “I think, for now I’d prefer to try and win the Olympics than get the yellow jersey, but it depends on how the legs and how form is and maybe it's possible to do both.”