Mathieu van der Poel is set to ride the first UCI Gravel World Championships this weekend, his first race since pulling out of the road World Championships last month.
The Dutchman was pegged as a favourite for the road race in Wollongong, Australia, but was arrested after involved in an altercation with two teenage girls, who had been knocking on his hotel room door. He was charged with two counts of common assault and granted conditional bail; he was later fined $1,500AU (£910) and given permission to return to Europe.
On Monday, it was reported in the Dutch and Belgian press that Van der Poel would be taking part in the first World Championships on gravel, which take place in Veneto, Northern Italy on 8-9 October. Alpecin-Deceuninck later confirmed the news.
The Dutchman will ride the Worlds along with teammate Gianni Vermeersch, after which they will ride the Serenissima Gravel on the 14 October. Following this, they will start their cyclocross season.
"We are writing a bit of history on Sunday," Van der Poel said in a press statement. "For me my very first gravel race in my career. Although it is not completely new. I trained on the gravel bike for the first time today and it feels like something between road racing and cyclo-cross. The adaptation on the bike wasn't too bad."
He remains cautious about his ambition for now. "It's mainly fun to be there. And if the feeling is okay on Sunday, we will obviously do our best to get the best possible result."
Speaking to the media upon his return to Europe following the Australian incident, the Dutchman apologised and said he should not have acted as he did.
"Of course I'm sorry, I'm wrong too," he told Het Nieuwsblad. “I admit that honestly. I shouldn't have done that. I should have done it differently. Unfortunately, it did happen and I'm trying to put it behind me, and look ahead to what's to come.”
However, he also insisted: “Anyone who knows me knows that I have never hurt anyone. There's a lot of stories going around about pushing and stuff, that's absolutely not true and that's not what happened.”
The elite men will compete on Sunday over 190km, with the winner awarded rainbow bands for the first time in the discipline. Van der Poel will be joined by other stars of the road including Peter Sagan, Greg van Avermaet, and Daniel Oss.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly last month, Sagan said that he plans to compete in Italy in order to “give back to the people” that have supported him throughout his career including some of his sponsors Specialized, Sportful and 100% sunglasses.
The gravel worlds courses will use sterrato, similar to the surfaces seen in Strade Bianche, cobbles, and tarmac roads. Van der Poel won the 2021 edition of Strade Bianche in impressive style, and is the reigning Tour of Flanders champion, skills he will hope help him on gravel.
He is a four-time cyclocross world champion, which should give him the skills to take part.
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