By Jonny Long published
Mathieu van der Poel has added the Volta a Catalunya to his early season schedule, where he is expected to have a full run at the spring Classics, in what will be his first WorldTour stage race of the year.
The Dutchman's inclusion in the stage race in northern Spain will see him take the start line in Catalonia just two days after Milan - San Remo, where he hopes to challenge for a first ever Monument victory.
Alpecin-Fenix, his rebranded Corendon-Circus team, are one of six squads to receive wildcard invitations to the race, with Nairo Quintana's Arkéa-Samsic and Circus-Wanty Gobert also getting the nod.
Van der Poel's appearance at the Volta a Catalunya means he won't participate in either Gent-Wevelgem or the E3 BinckBank Classic, with the former taking place on the final stage of the seven-day event.
This additional race slots in between the 24-year-old's expected early season road programme in Italy before he heads back west for the spring Classics.
After Strade Bianche and Milan - San Remo, Van der Poel's next one-day outing is expected to be at Dwars door Vlaanderen on April 1, before the Tour of Flanders four days later.
Then there's Paris-Roubaix on April 12, Brabantse Pijl three days after that, and the Amstel Gold Race on April 19.
Assuming he does take the start line, Van der Poel will be defending champion at all three of Dwars door Vlaanderen, Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race, the latter of which is considered the biggest career win so far.
Alpecin-Fenix's invitation to the Volta a Catalunya, whose organisers also run the Vuelta a España, makes the possibility of a surprise wildcard spot for the ProTeam outfit at the Spanish Grand Tour a bit more likely, however the Belgian squad are still expected to miss out as Grand Tour.
This is because organisers are having to grapple with reduced wildcard invitations which usually go to smaller home teams after new UCI rules mean Total Direct Energie, who finished top of the Pro-Continental rankings last year, receive a place at all WorldTour events this season.
Instead, Van der Poel has hinted at a possible Tour de France participation in 2021, as he will instead target the mountain bike event at the upcoming Olympic Games this summer.
After a busy end to his road season with a Tour of Britain overall victory followed up by a valiant effort at the Yorkshire World Championships, Van der Poel had little time off before switching to cyclocross for the winter.
Despite dominating the field once more, he was beaten in a cyclocross race in December for the first time after a 408-day winning streak.
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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