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Mathieu van der Poel said he worried the crash that delayed his cyclocross season debut would derail his whole program.
The Dutchman injured his knee in what he described as a “stupid” crash November 25 and was forced to push back his season start, which was set for Rucphen last weekend.
Following the extra week of training, van der Poel is hopeful that he’s on track to defend his world championship title in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at the end of January.
“After the crash, they cleaned it and they took away some of the dead flesh,” van der Poel said in a call with the media. “I had to stay off the bike for four days and when I started again the first two days were ok but then I got a lot of pain again when I was pedaling so I had to get off the bike for another five or six days.
“I was afraid it would take too long and my cyclocross season was already really short. I was worried that if I miss this whole period then maybe I wouldn’t have done the cyclocross season, but I’ve been back on the bike for a few weeks and the knee is holding up pretty OK.”
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Van der Poel’s crash is a reminder that even the best in the world can be caught out by the unexpected.
Though it was initially reported that it was a training crash, van der Poel explained to the media that he had been simply riding around with a friend when he was felled by a slippery crash.
The incident left him with an open wound on his knee, and though it didn’t require stitching, it took him longer to get back to training than first expected.
“The knee was a pretty stupid crash, I wasn’t even training. I was just cruising with a friend through the forest, and I just lost the front wheel on a slippery part where I didn’t expect it and I just hit a gravel section with the knee,” he said. “I hurt it pretty badly and I immediately felt it was not really good.
“It took some time before I could get back to training so that that is the reason I flew later to the training camp. It cost me almost 12 days without the bike. I did two times on the rollers for like 30 minutes, I think. That was a bit of a setback, but that’s also the reason I didn’t start last weekend because I needed the time to get the shape right again to start an intensive period of riding.”
Beating Wout van Aert
Van der Poel will kickstart his cyclocross season this weekend at the Dendermone round of the World Cup and the Superprestige Heusden-Zolder the following day. The Dutchman’s road to his world title defense will see him pack in nine races over the next five weeks.
He is familiar to injury issues this season after a back problem that he picked up in a mountain bike race in June plagued him throughout the rest of the season.
Van der Poel is hopeful that the hiccup in his preparation hasn’t set him too far back, but he’s not sure if he can match the pace of the dominant Wout van Aert at the moment.
“I can do everything with [my knee] so it is coming in the right direction. The back is holding up at the moment, not how I would like it, but it is holding up. I think I did everything I could to be ready for Sunday,” he said.
“Maybe I can go for the win. I think that the level of Wout is something that normally I would be able to follow… but if you see how far he rode away sometimes, I don’t know if I have that kind of legs to follow him, but I should be able to be in the group behind. Hopefully, I can surprise myself as well.”
As well as finding the legs to get himself in the mix for victory, van der Poel hopes that last year’s mudfest at Dendermonde — which left riders sinking into the ground — will not happen this weekend.
“I hope for a bit less mud, for sure. I don’t mind some mud, but it was really an extreme race last year but sometimes it should happen. They had a lot of rainfall, so it turned into mud. I don’t think it will be that hard this year,” he said.