Mathieu van der Poel is fresher, more relaxed, and primed for his ‘best Tour de France’

Dutch ace chooses training over racing through late spring, and now he's raring to blitz the Tour de France and a road-MTB worlds double.

Photo: BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

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Mathieu van der Poel emerged from his early summer racing shutdown fresher, more motivated, and just as fast as he was when he crushed the spring classics.

The Dutch ace already won Milan San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, and a fifth cyclocross world title this year.

Now after two months away from racing, Van der Poel is straining at the leash for a summer that stacks the Tour de France, road world championships, and a “YOLO” ride at the cross-country mountain bike race to double-up in Glasgow.

“I’m in good shape already, and I’m looking forward to racing again. It’s been a long while,” Van der Poel told the press from the hotel atop La Plagne that Alpecin-Deceuninck made his altitude training base.

“We invest more time in training now and a bit less in racing so that when I race, I’ll be ready to go for my goals. And I think we are succeeding.”

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Van der Poel rewrote his post-classics calendar for 2023.

Last year, the Dutch all-terrain speedwagon red-lined the Giro d’Italia only to burn out of the Tour de France.

This time around, the 28-year-old traded 21 days gutting through the corsa rosa for training in Spain and the French Alps.

“I feel more ready when I go to the races, and I’m more eager to race. That’s really important,” he said Monday of his new approach. “It’s part of modern cycling as well. It’s really difficult to go and race without any preparation because the level is super high in every race you do.”

Van der Poel only raced 13 days so far this season. Tune-up rides this month at Dwars Door Het Hageland and the Tour of Belgium will take that to a pre-Tour de France tally of 19.

He last year lined up for the Copenhagen grand départ carrying the weight of 31 race days in his legs and crumbled out in the second week.

The “train more, race less” mentality is one that diffused into the modern peloton in recent years. Endless competition has been replaced with altitude camps, patience, and peaking for only the biggest prizes.

“In the past, maybe I did too much racing and were a bit unprepared sometimes going from race to race,” Van der Poel said. “It’s good for me sometimes to have a good block of training. I think it also gets me to a different level.”

Van der Poel told the press Monday he hopes a fresher mind and fresher legs will see him through all 21 stages of the Tour de France and prime to hit a high at the Glasgow road worlds.

“I’m happy I raced already a lot in my life,” he said. “Now I’m making sure it counts went I’m on the starting line.”

Racing toward Glasgow with a waypoint in Paris

Van der Poel said his success in the monuments and ‘cross worlds has given him more confidence for summer. (Photo: Gruber Images/Velo)

The rainbow jersey of road world champion may be the one piece missing from Van der Poel’s packed out palmarès.

He’s won three monument titles, Tour de France, and Giro d’Italia stages, and worn both the yellow and pink jerseys. But he’s yet to even come close to becoming the first Dutch world champion since Joop Zoetemelk in 1985.

He bonked out of contention in Harrogate, was foiled by Julian Alaphilippe in Flanders, and spent the Aussie worlds in controversy.

Van der Poel wants to rewrite the script this year on a Glasgow course suited to his skillset.

He’s ruled out racing for the green jersey at the Tour de France and could be in the frame for the Tour’s first yellow jersey, but it’s all in service of reaching the rainbow that’s gotten away.

“I don’t think it makes sense to throw too much energy into the Tour, but I will also not hold back too much,” he said.

“For me, the classics and road worlds are the most important, but for sure I’m motivated to do a good Tour de France,” he continued. “I think this is the first year I’ve done really good preparation for the Tour without other things to think about. I’m actually looking forward to doing my best Tour, not like last year.”

Van der Poel’s spring successes haven’t dulled his hunger. Instead, he said they’ve unburdened him of pressure and freed his brainwaves.

Combine that with a stripped-back racing program and body free of back issues, and Van der Poel plans to make it a summer to remember.

“I hope to do mountain bike worlds one week after road worlds, but without any specific preparation,” Van der Poel said.

Van der Poel acknowledged mountain bike gold could be out of reach this year. But if he wants to qualify for a space at the Paris Olympic XCO race, he’s got to start amassing UCI points soon.

“I will try to go without any pressure and just try to adapt by riding a bit on the mountain bike the week after the road race,” he said. “I will be there anyway, so maybe something nice can happen there. Of course, the shape should be good, so I’ll give it a try and see where it ends up.”

If Van der Poel comes out of summer with a Tour de France stage win and road world title, you can assume he’ll roll his “race less-train more” mentality into the future.

If he wins the mountain bike rainbow jersey as well, everyone will be doing it.

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