Mathieu van der Poel logged a seven-hour training ride, his longest of the year so far, as he lays the foundations of his return to racing this spring.
The Dutchman, who has been plagued by injury since his nasty crash in the mountain bike event at Tokyo 2020 last summer, continues to recover from his back issues, and is being implored not to rush his return.
"Insiders say he could be able to ride some classics, but it could be that he trains for months and get another setback," Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld said on Sporza, helpfully translated by Domestique. "It's frustrating as they can't make a schedule. They don't know where the trouble comes from."
While Van der Poel is behind schedule compared to his rivals, the 27-year-old has proven time and time again he is often in a different league to them, and so doesn't necessarily need to arrive in top condition to emerge the victor.
"He's getting his base condition higher. Something that the others have done months ago. The problem is that Mathieu doesn't need to be 100 per cent to win a race. The temptation will be big," Zonneveld said.
Van der Poel missed the cyclocross worlds in January so as not to risk his road season, and took the opportunity to also receive knee surgery, and caution seems to be the name of the game not only for voices in the media but also his own team.
"He's a cycling horse. You can go over your limit," José De Cauwer added, in conversation with Zonneveld. "A couple of years ago, he crashed hard in Nokere. A couple of days later, he won Denain. Is that healthy? He needs to think carefully: when am I healthy and when can I race."
Van der Poel's latest training ride posted to Strava, a monstrous 205km over seven hours with 4,017m of elevation gain, albeit without any massive sustained efforts, came with a message: "You do you and I do I," while his training partner Wout Van Elzakker tagged his post with "Mathieu van der Poel, the king of the unexpected workout".
Despite the worry of outside observers, the 2,000km and nearly 30,000m of elevation gain Van der Poel has clocked in February, as he plots his season openers at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in April, concern should likely be reserved for those who will line up against him.
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