Mathieu van der Poel is hoping to end his cyclocross season on a high with a fifth world title and so defeat of his eternal rival, Wout van Aert, at the Cyclocross World Championships on Sunday.
The Dutchman has endured a contrasting winter. He won six of the 14 races on his schedule but was also troubled by back pain yet again and was beaten on a number of occasions by van Aert.
However, the World Championships were always the big cyclocross goal of the season, and Van der Poel feels he is now at his best. He is hoping to celebrate a famous victory on Sunday before focusing on his 2023 road racing campaign.
“This is what I’ve worked for,” Van der Poel told Het Nieuwsblad in a final interview before travelling from his home in northern Belgium across the border to Hoogerheide in southern Holland.
“I tried to organise my winter a little differently because the World Championships was marked in red from the very start. I don’t want to be at my peak all year round. Now, I want to work more in periods.
“The road has become more important in recent years, but in winter, the World Championships are the most important thing. Indeed, if they weren’t there, I wouldn’t have much to look for in the cross, except that it’s fun to do.”
Van der Poel won in Gevere on December 26 but then suffered a string of defeats to Van Aert before turning the tables on his Belgian rival in Herentals. However, his back pain flared up again in the Koksijde sand. Fortunately, a road training camp with Alpecin-Deceuninck gave him time to recover, and he managed to beat Van Aert in Benidorm two weeks ago with a late, audacious pass.
Van Aert has enjoyed a more consistent and more successful cyclocross campaign, but Van der Poel is optimistic about his chances.
Rain on Saturday is expected to make the Hoogerheide course a little slower, but it should remain mud-free and so fast. The high barriers are also in Van der Poel’s favour and could tip the balance as he and Van Aert fight for yet another rainbow jersey.
“Not winning is not a good feeling,” Van der Poel said, admitting the World Championships will make or break his winter.
“The Christmas period was good, but I had expected a little more from it. I didn’t reach the level I had in mind, but if you win the World Championships, nothing else matters.
“The problems with my back were not fun, but apart from that, I had a lot of fun during the winter. It was fun going into that duel (win van Aert during the…
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