Each year, Cycling Weekly readers select a 'Rider of the Year', and for 2023, Mathieu van der Poel claimed the glory - gaining 35% of the total votes.
If anyone was going to do it, it had to be him. Stood atop the Glasgow World Championship podium in August, Mathieu van der Poel completed the bridge he had been building between his beloved cyclo-cross and road race worlds. He became the first man to hold both World Championships at the same time.
The closest anyone else had come before him was legend Roger de Vlaeminck who, having claimed the 1975 World Championship cross title in the winter, was only narrowly beaten to road victory in the summer.
There was nothing close about van der Poel’s victory in Glasgow. Having taken off with 22km to race he never looked back – even a crash and a broken shoe couldn’t stop him – and by the line he had over a minute and a half in hand.
“It almost completes my career, in my opinion. It’s maybe my biggest victory on the road,” he said at the time. In 2023 van der Poel was a complete master of his two disciplines. He had been edging towards this point ever since he exploded on to the WorldTour road scene in 2019. By then he’d already been world champion in the mud twice and would continue to be the most dominant figure on the winter circuit (17 wins from 24 races) even as his road palmarès blossomed.
However, this year he hit a new stride. It wasn’t his winningest year on the road, that was 2019, but it had the highest quality with two Monument victories in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix to go alongside the World Championships.
All those wins were a product of solo attacks that were often daring, frequently smart, always unmatched. At San Remo he jumped clear in the same place most do, on the ascent of the Poggio and never looked back. In Paris-Roubaix he was gifted the win by Wout van Aert’s rear puncture when the pair were away, but few who saw him close the gap to his Belgian rival just moments before would have bet against him anyway.
Then came Glasgow, where after being one of the many animators of the day, van der Poel launched with 22km to go and immediately distanced four of the best riders in the world.
Van der Poel’s is a style of racing that is easy to like, attacking, aggressive, with no fear of failure. It’s little wonder that 35% of Cycling Weekly readers voted for him as International Rider of the Year, nearly double that of his closest competitor.
If there was any disappointment for the Dutchman it was that he did not bag a stage win at the Tour de France to go with his single victory there in 2021. But even there van der Poel was endearing. After all, his Alpecin-Deceuninck team also had the best sprinter in the world in 2023, Jasper Philipsen, who would go on to claim the race’s green jersey. Van der Poel was his leadout de luxe and somewhat startlingly it was a role he seemed only too happy to play. “It almost feels the same as winning myself,” he said after Philipsen’s second stage win.
That was before the Tour’s second week, where most of the chances for Classics riders lay, but van der Poel was sick and unable to take advantage.
The Dutchman is not unbeatable – he couldn’t hang with Tadej Pogačar on the Kwaremont in Flanders, for example – but in 2023 Mathieu van der Poel was more than good enough to put his indelible mark in the history books and was certainly the most entertaining rider in the peloton to watch.
Don’t mention the Tour de France! If you ignore the loss in his titanic rematch with Jonas Vingegaard, Pogačar had a vintage season. A look down his stats sheet for the first half of the season reveals more ones than any other number. At the Tour of Flanders, Paris- Nice and Amstel Gold he was unstoppable. Even the post- Tour block was not bad, with only one finish outside the top five and a win at Il Lombardia.
There is a temptation to read Vollering’s ascent this season as a consequence of the waning of Annemiek van Vleuten’s powers. But the reality is that when it mattered Vollering was a cut above everyone in 2023. Her Tour de France victory was emphatic, Strade Bianche, for all the controversy, was clinical and her Liège-Bastogne-Liège win was smart. Next year the peloton will be playing catch-up.
While many of her most memorable victories in the past had been from small group sprints, this season one suspects Kopecky’s rivals would have been happy just to be there at the end as she developed a habit of distancing everyone before the line was in sight. In Glasgow she left everyone for dead with 5km to go, at the Tour of Flanders it was with 18km to race, while on the first stage of the Tour de France with the yellow jersey up for grabs, it was 9km to go that she went solo.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1