Mathieu van der Poel says he has to believe he can become world champion in Yorkshire next month, after a four-month absence from road racing.
The superstar of three cycling disciplines was untouchable on stage one of the Artic Race of Norway, as he fired away from the peloton with a long 200 metre sprint after a high-paced day of racing.
Van der Poel made his return to the peloton in Norway, having focused his attention on the mountain bike calendar this summer, which saw him win three World Cup rounds.
His last race on the road was Amstel Gold Race in April, taking victory in one of the most memorable moments of the 2019 season.
Van der Poel, the cyclocross world champion, now turns his attention to the road Worlds in Yorkshire next month.
Speaking after the opening stage of the Artic Race, the 24-year-old told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: “Whether I can become world champion this year? Maybe so, you have to believe in it.”
On his stage victory in the week-long race, Van der Poel said: “The problem with most sprinters is that they usually wait too long to start. Then they are surprised if someone starts earlier, like me ”
Victory came after a punchy 182km finishing in Leknes, where Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings was the most aggressive rider and found himself out front alone with just 100 metres to the line.
But a reduced peloton was surging from behind, as Van der Poel launched his sprint 200 metres out from the line, sweeping up Cummings and riding clear of the peloton to score victory.
Van der Poel has won seven of the 16 road races he has started this year, a remarkable 43 per cent hit race.
He has taken victory in his last three outings on the road, in the Arctic Race, Amstel Gold and Brabantse Pijl.