Mathieu van der Poel says he’s not the strongest rider in the Yorkshire 2019 World Championships men’s road race, but admits he is one of the small group of favourites that can win it.
The long 285km course punctuated with short sharp climbs means riders of varying styles could do well, with punchy climbers like Julian Alaphilippe (France) and Alejandro Valverde (Spain) in contention with strong Classics riders like Peter Sagan (Slovakia), Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) and Michael Matthews (Australia).
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Despite a phenomenal year on the road, 24-year-old Van der Poel insists he is not the strongest of the riders in the race, but expects to be among the group battling it out for the rainbow jersey on Sunday.
“I don’t consider myself as the strongest one. I think there are a lot of strong riders,” Van der Poel said. “On my terrain normally I’m among the strongest but not the strongest I think.
“I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do [ahead of the race]. I think I’m amongst the favourites but to point me out as the biggest favourite is maybe a little bit too much. But I think I’m amongst a few guys who can definitely win the race.”
The Dutchman took on the Classics for the first time this season having focused predominantly on cyclocross in previous years. He exceeded expectations, winning ahead of established riders in the Amstel Gold Race, De Brabantse Pijl and Dwars door Vlaanderen, as well as impressive fourth place finishes in gruelling editions of Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. After competing on the mountain bike during the summer, Van der Poel returned to road racing ahead of the Worlds at the Tour of Britain, where he won three stages and the overall title.
However, Van der Poel is venturing into new territory with the Worlds road race, having never competed in the event before. While he’s raced over a similar distance at the Tour of Flanders this year, the expected heavy rain and cold of Yorkshire will certainly play its part in deciding the outcome. He remained hesitant to name a clear favourite, but said that Philippe Gilbert was the rider who could thrive in the adverse conditions and on the tough course.
“[The rain is] not really something I really like, but that goes for many riders. I think that for me if the weather is fine I like it more. It’s not really nice to ride the distance in rain and wind conditions and I think.
“It’s difficult to say how much you lose, but of course it affects the muscles and stuff when it’s cold and it’s raining all day.
“Gilbert [is a favourite]. Because of the weather conditions as well he’s good in those weather conditions and I think he showed his form as well in the Vuelta, that he is in top shape and he’s one of the riders that also that is really strong in long races. So I think the course suits him.”
Speaking on Friday, Van der Poel said he had yet to explore the local laps of the course in Harrogate, which the elite men take on seven times. He says the overall course will be too hard to come down to a bunch sprint and that he expects a small group of isolated favourites to approach the finale together.
“It’s not going to be a sprint I think on Sunday – it’s too hard and there are also too many riders who don’t want a sprint. So I think there’s gonna be a lot of attacks on the on the local loop,” Van der Poel said.
“I’ve been isolated in Classics races already so of course it’s better to have a team-mate but at the end when the big names really put in an effort I think everyone is almost alone in the group.
“That was also in the Classic races the case and at the end it’s also up to me, and it’s up to me to have the legs to follow the big guns if they go as well.”