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Whatever Wout can do, Mathieu can do too.
Alpecin-Fenix bosses the Roodhooft brothers indicated van der Poel would be joining van Aert in the hunt for the green jersey at the 2022 Tour de France when speaking at the Kristallen Fiets award ceremony this week.
“When I hear van Aert say that he is going for the green jersey, I think, ‘We’ll see about that for a while,’” Christoph Roodhooft told Het Laatste Nieuws after receiving the award for best team manager of the year. “If everything goes normally, that is a very realistic target for us. I think of Jasper Philipsen, or Mathieu van der Poel [for the points classification].”
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Van der Poel’s long-time nemesis van Aert also indicated earlier this week that he would be targeting green at the 2022 Tour.
The pair both raced this year’s Tour with very different ambitions but had similarly spectacular results.
Van der Poel dived into the opening phase of the race, scoring a stage win and against-all-odds six days in the yellow jersey before taking an early exit to focus on his Olympic MTB bid. In the following weeks, Van Aert went on to amass three stage victories after being unshackled from duties for team leader Primož Roglič, who abandoned the race with injury.
Although van der Poel has not yet completed a three-week race, his explosive sprint and swaggering attacking style make him well-placed to target the Tour’s sprint classification – just like van Aert.
“Mathieu is the perfect rider to win the green jersey,” Philip Roodhooft said. “The green jersey, and stage wins.”
The potential van Aert-van der Poel points classification clash next summer would open a new chapter on a long rivalry between two riders that are forever mentioned in the same breath. The two began to battle each other since their early teen years of ‘cross racing and have been at each other’s wheels ever since.
Which of the dazzling duo could come out top in the hunt for green next summer? Team priorities and selection strategies may have a large part to play.
The second-division Alpecin-Fenix squad muscled into sprints alongside Quick-Step pair Mark Cavendish and Fabio Jakobsen through last year’s grand tours with top fast-men Philipsen and Tim Merlier, and is likely to do the same in 2022.
Jumbo-Visma will return to next year’s Tour with Roglič and will be looking to win the yellow jersey that the Slovenian has so long been hunting. The Dutch crew is likely to take a mountain-focussed eight to France in order to make that happen.
Similarly, Alpecin-Fenix may well select a squad of big-engine lead-out riders in a bid to match its sprint successes of 2021.
The result? Van Aert and van der Poel could be pitched into a one-on-one green jersey slugfest.
Bring your popcorn, it could be spectacular.
MvdP clear of back injury: ‘At a certain point he didn’t enjoy cycling anymore’
While van der Poel’s possible green jersey challenge is still far on the horizon, his return to the cyclocross circuit and a quest for a fifth world title is now just two weeks away.
Van der Poel is expected to make his CX debut on December 18, and he’s likely to come head-to-head with van Aert – who restarts this weekend – the day after Christmas.
The good news for van der Poel ahead of his return to racing is that the back injuries that plagued him through the fall seem far in the memory.
“I hear him less and less about that back. That’s a good sign,” Christoph Roodhooft told De Telegraaf in a separate interview this week.
“He does a lot of core exercises to strengthen his back. It’s looking good and as it develops, I’m assuming it won’t bother him in the long run. Mathieu and the rest of the team are well on schedule.”
Also read: Van der Poel: Injury-free and ready to race
Van der Poel’s cartwheeling crash at the MTB Olympics saw him out of the frame for several weeks before regathering for the world championships – Paris-Roubaix doubleheader in the autumn.
Roodhooft said that two near-misses in major races – eighth at the worlds and third at Roubaix – put a stop to a late-season van der Poel would rather forget.
“At a certain point he didn’t enjoy cycling anymore, because it was often a battle against the pain,” Roodhooft said. “The fact that he wasn’t top at the worlds and in Paris-Roubaix made it difficult. The fall was a huge disappointment for Mathieu. He really suffered from that blow for a while and then the back problems followed.”
Here’s hoping van der Poel should be back at his bombastic best when he makes his cyclocross debut in two weeks’ time – ‘coz van Aert will be waiting.