'It's not easy to stay on Mathieu's wheel' - Van der Poel shines in lead-out role

After two tough days, Alpecin-Deceuninck's leader is delivering for his teammates

Mathieu van der Poel in bayonne at the tour de france 2023
(Image credit: Getty)

As far as lead-out men go, you will not find many stronger than Mathieu van der Poel

The Dutchman is a four-time Monument winner, often left to ride for himself, the weight of the team on his shoulders. At this year’s Tour de France, however, his role is more nuanced. 

Van der Poel is a leader, yes, but he is also a domestique. When the tarmac lays flat, and the bunch barrels as one, Van der Poel’s job is to serve his sprinter, Jasper Philipsen, and on Monday in Bayonne, he executed it perfectly. 

“When you see the other lead-out trains not passing us, you know it’s going fast,” Philipsen said post race. With 500m to go on stage three, Van der Poel took the reins from Jonas Rickaert and kicked through his pedals, up through an S-bend and towards the line. All Philipsen had to do was follow. 

“It’s not easy to stay on Mathieu’s wheel,” he smiled, but stay on it he did, and the stage win went to him

The first two stages had been cloud-covered in the Spanish Basque Country, both literally, and figuratively for Alpecin-Deceuninck, whose Classics leader had looked a shadow of himself. 

37th, 107th Van der Poel’s stage results read. Some wondered if he was saving his legs, holding something back for his lead-out duties, but speaking to Cycling Weekly in Bayonne, his sports director Christoph Roodhoft dismissed such an idea. “No, not at all,” Roodhoft said. “It was not that he was saving his legs. He did the effort that he was hoping for the first day, which didn’t bring him in the first group.

“Yesterday was a bit too much [for Van der Poel], and today our plans succeeded. We are happy with this.” 

Stood next to Roodhoft, wearing a sky blue team-issue shirt, was Van der Poel’s father, Adrie, who is travelling with the team this July. “I think the first days, as Mathieu has said, were a little bit hard. He took almost two days off, and rode to the finish,” he said of his son. 

Fortunately, with Philipsen capable of delivering on the biggest stages, Van der Poel can now afford to have off days. “Since Jasper arrived, there is of course a lot less pressure on Mathieu,” Adrie said. “Each one has their good things and bad things. I think when they are together and it comes down to a sprint, I think [Mathieu’s] value is enormous for Jasper.”

And in Bayonne it was. Van der Poel’s own result will stand as 26th, but in the service of his teammate, his name is stitched in Philipsen’s victory. 

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Tom Davidson
News and Features Writer

Tom joined Cycling Weekly as a news and features writer in the summer of 2022, having previously contributed as a freelancer. He is the host of The TT Podcast, which covers both the men's and women's pelotons and has featured a number of prominent British riders. 

An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Tom likes it most when the road goes uphill and actively seeks out double-figure gradients on his rides. 

He's also fluent in French and Spanish and holds a master's degree in International Journalism.