Many will have risen early to watch Milan – San Remo 2021 in full, the 300km race being broadcast from start to finish as Italy heads back into coronavirus lockdown. But what will have really woken cycling fans up will have been the first appearance of Mathieu van der Poel on their TV screens.
The helicopter camera zoomed in after spotting the Dutch national champion’s jersey of the Alpecin-Fenix rider in the opening kilometres, looking to give fans a first look at one of the main contenders for the day. But what many won’t have expected to see was that Van der Poel has opted once again for white shorts, and this time complemented by matching white legwarmers.
“Impossible to back him looking like this…” said one person on Twitter. “Like winning in pyjamas,” added another.
For the Dutchman’s rivals, his get-up will surely strike fear into their hearts as the last time he sported white shorts, much to the shock and disgust of the more judgemental cycling fans among us, was at the 2019 Amstel Gold Race, where Van der Poel stormed to a mightly impressive, last-gasp win to properly announce himself to the WorldTour.
But what’s the reasoning behind the white shorts?
Having debuted them at the 2019 Tour of Flanders, Mathieu’s father, Adrie van der Poel, revealed that it was a tactical decision.
“It was a conscious choice by [Corendon-Circus team managers] the Roodhooft brothers, for tactical reasons,” he said at the time.
“They had seen in Dwars door Vlaanderen that in the helicopter images Mathieu was difficult to distinguish from the Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels.
“With white bibshorts they were able to recognise Mathieu much faster and give him the right tactical tips via the course radio.
“That way they could quickly tell him when he had to move up in a group.
“I thought those white bib shorts a brilliant move.”
The Luxembourg champion, Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ), is riding Milan – San Remo, so the white shorts could again be a tactical choice from Van der Poel. Both riders have, however, already raced alongside each other numerous times this season at Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, where Van der Poel didn’t elect to wear white shorts.
Van der Poel comes into the Italian Monument off the back of winning Strade Bianche in imperious fashion, riding Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) off his wheel to cross the line in the Piazza del Campo alone.
Should the Dutchman be able to follow that up with victory at Milan – San Remo he will become the third rider in three years to win both races after Alaphilippe in 2019 and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) in 2020. It would also be his second Monument victory, having won the Tour of Flanders last year.