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Time is not on Mathieu van der Poel‘s side ahead of his bid to win a fifth cyclocross world title this month.
Van der Poel is still suffering with the back problem that haunted him through the second half of 2021. The nagging injury forced Van der Poel to abandon his second race of the cyclococross season last week and cancel a series of ‘crosses originally on his program.
With the Fayetteville world championships just four weeks away, van der Poel’s physiotherapist David Bombeke gave a bleak outlook of the odds of van der Poel making the trip to the U.S. for his title defense January 30.
“It is a bit early to think about the world championships now, but of course it is true that there is not much time left,” Bombeke told Het Nieuwsblad.
“If you ride the worlds, you have to be good and, in my view, a month is a fairly short time frame to get in top shape … rest should really be the priority now, no matter how much time it takes.”
Van der Poel has suffered with a tweaked back since his somersaulting crash at the Olympic MTB race in July. He was forced to abandon his plans to start the mountain bike worlds and raced on the road just five times in the fall.
A delayed start to the cyclocross season wasn’t enough to iron out the kinks. Alpecin-Fenix confirmed Wednesday that the Dutchman would pull out of two previously planned ‘crosses during this holiday period.
Alpecin-Fenix boss Christoph Roodhooft said van der Poel wouldn’t be rushing back into action ahead of a full year of ‘cross, classics, mountain bike racing and maybe a grand tour.
“The big problem is not that he has to miss cyclocross, but that Mathieu is not pain-free,” Roodhooft told Het Nieuwsblad in a separate interview. “Because of that nagging pain, he does not have his full capabilities. Moreover, Mathieu cannot train to get better. That’s terribly annoying.”
Roodhooft indicated that there would be no imminent return to the ‘cross field for MvdP given that a spell of training would be needed before he dives back into competition.
It’s not only van der Poel’s participation at ‘cross worlds that is looking doubtful.
Wout van Aert is still undecided about making the trip Stateside to race January 30 as he puts 100 percent focus on the road classics, starting at the “opening weekend” late February.
Also read: Wout continues to wobble on ‘cross worlds
The good news?
Officials believe van der Poel’s injury is not career-threatening. Both Bombeke and Johan Bellemans, chief physician of the Belgian Olympic Committee, have indicated that a significant spell of rest should see van der Poel right after a decade of bouncing from one discipline to another with little recovery time.
“This is actually the result of the many attacks he has committed on his body, from mountain biking to road cycling, to cyclo-cross and BMX in the past,” Bombeke said. “His body is now paying the price.”