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Mathieu van der Poel isn’t letting his low-key path toward Wollongong hamper his rainbow jersey ambition for the UCI Road World Championships.
Van der Poel will be catching a late flight to Australia after an off-the-script preparation as he pushes toward an elusive road world title.
The Dutch captain’s road to the worlds was so riddled with uncertainty as he struggled with burnout that he only recently made the call to ride for rainbows.
“One and a half weeks ago,” Van der Poel told reporters when asked at what point he decided to return to the road worlds.
“I was hesitant to go, but I think I can do something with this form.”
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After being sidelined with fatigue and failing legs following a derailed Tour de France, Van der Poel flashed to his third victory in a row with hard-fought victory over Biniam Girmay at the GP de Wallonie this week.
Van der Poel took the quiet option and chose local, lower-tier races to tune up for the road world championships while Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar – the riders he tipped as favorites – blitzed big one-day races in Plouay and Canada.
Van der Poel flexed back against doubters in a press conference Thursday.
The 27-year-old said he’s in better form than before last year’s Leuven competition and is backing himself for unlikely victory as he and Dylan van Baarle lead the Dutch against Belgian and Slovenian standouts.
“The last week has been going really well. If I didn’t feel I was really good, I wouldn’t leave,” he said.
“The world championship is a strange race,” he added. “You never know how that will turn out. It is a bit similar to the Amstel Gold Race. Maybe a little more difficult. In that field, I need a super day to really participate with the best climbers.”
‘I don’t know if there is ideal preparation for worlds’
Most worlds favorites landed on Aussie soil earlier this week to iron out jet-lag and freshen flight-cramped legs. Van der Poel has barely finished packing his suitcase.
Van der Poel will race in Belgium at the Primus Classic on Saturday before making a late dash to the airport.
“I will leave Zaventem on Saturday evening for a trip of about 25 hours,” he said.
“I also arrived late for the Tokyo Games. I did have the feeling that I was as well rested as possible, even though I couldn’t perform because of that fall.
“I’m not a good sleeper on the plane, but it’s not bad to arrive tired. I’ll get there on Monday morning and will be tired enough in the evening to have a good first night right away.”
Most worlds favorites chose to split their trip across the globe with a stayover in Canada this year. Van Aert, Pogačar, Michael Matthews and more all saw racing in GP Plouay and GP Montréal, with Pogačar scoring confidence-boosting victory in the latter.
Van der Poel braced back against questions pointed at his rulebook-ripping route to the road worlds.
“It’s not that bad. I don’t know if there is ideal preparation,” he said. “I don’t think those races in Canada are ideal either.
“The level is always very high there, but I don’t think you necessarily have a better preparation by riding Canada than by training here and doing those home races.”