Mathieu van der Poel recognises that Wout van Aert's current cyclocross form makes his season debut on Sunday in Dendermonde even more difficult, downplaying his own chances at challenging the Belgian during the race.
After multiple delays due to a knee injury he sustained on November 25 while training in a forest in the Belgian village of Lichtaart, where he slid out and damaged his knee, the Dutch rider finally starts his cyclocross season on Sunday.
In a press conference, the four-time cyclocross world champion said: “It was a stupid crash in the forest. A setback that even made me fearful for my cyclocross season."
He had to spend a week off the bike as a result, before heading to Spain to join his Alpecin-Fenix teammates at their training camp. With most cyclocross riders beginning their campaigns in October and Wout van Aert beginning at the start of December, van der Poel described his concern for delaying his already late start to the season.
However, he claims that he is in the best condition possible and looks forward to racing Van Aert, though he isn't confident of his prospects at beating him.
The Dutchman said: "The level is high. And especially because Wout van Aert made an impression in the races he already rode. Nice to see, by the way. I didn't watch the entire races, but I did watch bits and pieces.
"I don't know if I have the legs yet to follow him, but I'm going to try anyway. Maybe I'll surprise myself. If that doesn't work, I should be able to be part of the group behind him.
"Normally I would also spontaneously say that I immediately want to participate for a win. But the way in which Wout started his winter was tougher than I expected. Hence some reservations.”
Last year, van der Poel lost in Dendermonde to Van Aert, and with the Belgian already displaying some fine cyclocross form this season with three wins, it looks like a tough task to battle him for a win.
Van der Poel's late start to the season isn't for a lack of love of the sport though, in fact, he just needed a rest after the road season.
He explained: "The leaderboards are gone, only the championships are left as big prizes to grab.
"That's because of that long road season. I needed that rest. But it now feels strange not to dive into the field until the end of December. But the love isn't over, just to be clear.”
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Ryan is a staff writer for Cycling Weekly, having joined the team in September 2021. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before making his way to cycling. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer.
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