Is it time for Mathieu van der Poel to solely focus on the road?

A sixth cyclo-cross world title seemed easy for the Dutchman. Does he have anything left to prove in the sand and the mud?

Mathieu van der Poel
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Adam Becket
Adam Becket

News editor at Cycling Weekly, Adam brings his weekly opinion on the goings on at the upper echelons of our sport. 

This piece is part of The Leadout, the offering of newsletters from Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

Mathieu van der Poel is once again world champion. That’s a sentence that we’ve got used to now, after his six cyclo-cross titles (and one one the road). But his dominant ride at the weekend showed once again how he is the best in the world when it comes to completing laps in mud. 

His sixth cyclo-cross rainbow jersey does leave an open question, however. Will the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider now focus solely on the road?

The 28-year-old has won everything he could possibly win in cyclo-cross, while there are bigger targets and more success to be found on the road, even if he has won three of the five Monuments already. 

The Dutchman doesn’t exactly sound overjoyed by the prospect of another muddy winter - “it's not just the ‘cross. It's everything that comes with it. It takes a lot of energy”, Van der Poel told Wielerflits last Sunday - so this might be the perfect opportunity to switch his focus to road racing only. 

“A day like that on the cross simply demands a lot from you. The racing is perhaps the easiest part of the day. My focus is also more and more on the road, that is where my big goals lie,” he confirmed. 

It’s not as if Van der Poel has anything to prove in any discipline, but especially in cyclo-cross, where he has won over 100 races. If he can win Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo and the road Worlds in a season where he does CX too, then the mind boggles at what is possible in a purely road-based year.

The pressure for Alpecin’s ‘star asset’ to focus on the road isn’t coming from his team - boss Christoph Roodhoft said that they hadn’t spoken about it, but you could imagine the motivation to slimline the calendar.

Some of Van der Poel’s greatest strengths, like his bike handling and explosivity, come from his years of experience on cyclo-cross courses, but those skills are clearly mastered - so is there much point in the Dutchman spreading himself thin, especially during what could be the peak years of his career?

Van der Poel is already clearly utilising a curated approach to cyclo-cross, and his great rival Wout van Aert too, with both only doing a select number of races; but is there much point doing it at all if it’s half hearted?

For the Alpecin rider, there is still one goal to aim for: one more World Championship win, in order to equal Erik de Vlaeminck’s record seven rainbow jersey wins in CX. However, if it’s the only thing that matters, is there much point racing a whole season?

“I think that is the only motivation to start racing again in the winter,” Van der Poel said. “The rest of the season, as I've said before, isn't important. There is only one race that counts and that is the World Championship.”

It might not be the end next season, but it does not seem like Van der Poel’s future lies on his ‘cross bike. Some of his competitors will be pleased to see the back of him - it would mean more winning opportunities - but he would certainly leave the discipline as one of its greatest ever. Whether he’s one of the greatest road riders ever seems like a question Van der Poel could still answer.

This piece is part of The Leadout, the offering of newsletters from Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

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