Van der Poel on His Cyclo-cross World Title: “My focus is increasingly shifting to the road”

By Monica Buck

Mathieu van der Poel clinched his sixth cyclocross world championship in Tabor, delivering a performance that once again underlined his dominance in the sport. However, in the aftermath of his victory, van der Poel hinted that this championship might mark the end of his cyclocross career as he shifts his focus more towards road racing.

Van der Poel, who is just one title shy of Erik De Vlaeminck’s record, shared his sentiments about his future in cyclocross, stating, “Apart from the world title and the fun, there is not much left for me to gain in cyclocross. My focus is increasingly shifting to the road.” This statement indicates a possible pivot in van der Poel’s illustrious career, prioritizing road cycling over cyclocross.

Despite his success, the decision to possibly step away from cyclocross isn’t solely van der Poel’s to make. The Alpecin-Deceuninck team, which benefits significantly from van der Poel’s cyclocross achievements, along with the financial implications of start fees, play a crucial role in this decision-making process. Van der Poel acknowledged the complexity of the situation, saying, “It’s a decision that I obviously cannot make alone. But we will discuss it within the team.”

The 29-year-old Dutchman also highlighted the toll that cyclocross takes on him, explaining, “Cross in the winter is something that takes a lot of energy. If it turns out that I can perform even better on the road by skipping cyclo-cross, then I will do that.” This suggests that van der Poel’s potential departure from cyclocross could be a strategic move to enhance his performance in road cycling.

While van der Poel’s immediate future in road racing is becoming clearer, with plans to be revealed in the coming weeks, the decision regarding his participation in the next cyclocross season remains undecided. He humorously remarked, “We will know more about my road programme in two weeks, but not yet about next winter.”

Reflecting on his race in Tabor, van der Poel described it as “perfect,” leading from the front and securing a 37-second victory. This win capped off a nearly flawless cyclocross season for him, with 13 victories out of 14 races. Van der Poel expressed relief and satisfaction at securing the world title after such a dominant season, stating, “It would have been a shame to miss out on the world title after such a season. But a race still has to be run, and the top favourite has often not won.”

Van der Poel’s strategic and cautious approach to the race paid off, as he managed to avoid risks and navigate the course safely. He attributed part of his success to his equipment, acknowledging his Canyon bike’s performance by pointing to it at the finish line and emphasizing, “That the bike did a good job, which is crucial in a cyclocross.”

The race also served as a farewell to three-time world champion Zdeněk Štybar, who completed his final lap in front of his home crowd in the Czech Republic, finishing in 31st place. Van der Poel paid tribute to Štybar, saying, “He’s a super-nice guy as well, and I train a lot with him. I hope he continues to train a bit so we can go together on rides.”