Next chapter in the Van Aert-Van der Poel rivalry moves from mud to gravel, road, and pavé

Up next are duels at Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. The expectation will only grow in the next few weeks.

Photo: David Stockman/Getty Images

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“I hate it, but I love it.”

That’s what Wout van Aert posted on social media after his stinging but beautiful defeat to arch-rival Mathieu van der Poel at the UCI cyclocross championships earlier this month.

The latest chapter in the pair’s long-running rivalry lit up the 2022-23 cyclocross season. Weekend after weekend, the pair traded punches like heavyweight boxers in the ring.

Van der Poel was sublime in his searing dominance at Hoogerheide, and Van Aert was the first to tip his hat.

Also read: Van der Poel relishes titan victory over Van Aert: ‘When we look back, we’ll appreciate these duels’

After cooling their jets, the rivalry of the decade transitions from the mud to the gravel, road, and pavé next month in what will be a series of high-profile clashes that will light up the spring calendar in similar spectacular fashion.

Last week, Van Aert rejoined his roadie teammates at Jumbo-Visma atop the very crowded Teide volcano on Spain’s Tenerife. Van der Poel is in Spain with a few select teammates as both prepare for a road racing revival.

Of course, it’s not just Van Aert or Van der Poel who can win when they’re racing, but their dual presence raises the stakes in any race they start.

The spring classics promise to be as competitive as ever in 2023.

Soudal Quick-Step, though it might be missing a marquee name, returns with its collective might. Tadej Pogačar is a guaranteed factor at such races as Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

And other riders such as Peter Sagan (Total Energies), Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo), and the ever deeper Jumbo-Visma all will have something to say.

Yet all eyes will be on Van Aert-Van der Poel duel.

Though schedules and calendars charge, right now it appears their paths will cross only five times this spring.

Next clash: Strade Bianche on March 4

This guy might have something to say this spring as well. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

After the demands of cyclocross, both will skip the races on the “opening weekend” at the end of February at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

The first matchup will be at Strade Bianche on March 4.

The Italian classic is quickly emerging as cycling’s “sixth” monument, and the clash between defending champion Pogačar and former winners Van Aert and Van der Poel should deliver one of the highlights of the spring.

Also read: UCI hails huge crowds at CX worlds

Van Aert and Van der Poel are both slated to race Tirreno-Adriatico on March 6-12.

The pair have coincided here before, and Van Aert is back for the first time since 2021, when Pogačar relegated him into second on GC.

Van der Poel is also back at the “Race of the Two Seas” for the first time since 2021, when between them they won three of the seven stages. There are at least four stages that suit them this year.

The next big date after that is Milano-Sanremo on March 18.

Van Aert won it in 2020 in what’s his lone “monument” win so far in his otherwise prolific career, with Van der Poel finishing third last year.

The race is so unpredictable that it’s too hard to call. Both will be in with shots, but anything could happen.

With Van Aert betting everything on Flanders and Roubaix this spring, he might not be taking risks coming down the Poggio. On paper, Van der Poel can win it — just like about any one-day race he starts — and since his third is his best so far in three starts, he might be a touch more motivated than Van Aert.

Tour of Flanders on April 2

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin Fenix) wins the Tour of Flanders
Mathieu van der Poel won a spectacular Tour of Flanders last year. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Van der Poel races the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on March 24, and he finished third in 2021 in the only year he’s raced. Van Aert might be skipping the “mini-Tour of Flanders,” but it’s on his schedule right now. Neither race anything else between Milano-Sanremo and Tour of Flanders.

The Ronde van Vlaanderen on April 2 should see an absolute bonanza of hype and expectation for the race.

Van der Poel’s spectacular victory last year at Pogačar’s expense sets the stage for what should be one of the highlights of the entire spring.

Van Aert is desperate to win, and after missing it last year with COVID-19, and his heart-breaking second in 2020 to … yep, you guessed it … Van der Poel, anything less than victory will be a disappointment.

Paris-Roubaix on April 9

Game faces on the pavé. (Photo: Getty)

The spring will hit its apogee at Paris-Roubaix on April 9.

Jumbo-Visma will bring a stacked team, and Van Aert will be one of many cards to play. With second last year to new teammate Dylan Van Baarle, it will be interesting to watch how the Dutch powerhouse plays its hand.

Van der Poel brings unfinished business with the “Hell of the North,” finishing third in 2021 and ninth last year.

Van Aert might hate it and love it, but just about everyone else — save Van der Poel — absolutely loves this long-running rivalry.


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