Which version of Mathieu van der Poel will show up at Strade Bianche?

Pressure mounting as Alpecin-Deceuninck remains winless going into the critical spring classics racing period.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Which version of Mathieu van der Poel will show up at Strade Bianche?

The race-crushing version that roared to victory in 2021, or is it still a touch too soon for “MvdP” who’s targeting bigger fish at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix?

Alpecin-Deceuninck team boss Christoph Roodhooft said there’s no reason not to expect the flying Dutchman to hit the gravel running in his road season debut Saturday.

“He is motivated, healthy, and has been able to train well,” Roodhooft told Het Laatste Nieuws. “It is difficult to judge whether Mathieu is as strong as when he won the Strade in 2021, but I can say that he is very fine. He is motivated and healthy, and he’s been able to train well and has had few physical discomforts.”

Van der Poel will start with the No. 1 bib Saturday after defending champion Tadej Pogačar opted not to race in favor of heading to Paris-Nice for the first time.

A few other top names are missing Saturday, including 2020 winner Wout van Aert.

Van der Poel will have the pre-race favorite status, but he’s used to that. Van der Poel carries the pressure in every race he starts, and Saturday’s race over the white roads of Tuscany will be no different.

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After barnstorming to an emotional win at the UCI cyclocross world championships last month, Van der Poel took a short break to reload for the road season.

His calendar is packed with a string of one-days from here through Paris-Roubaix, with next week’s Tirreno-Adriatico as his only stage race during a busy spring racing period.

“After the cyclocross world championships, he took a vacation and then spent two weeks at altitude in Syncrosfera (in Spain),” Roodhooft told the Belgian daily. “We will recon the course. Strade Bianche is a difficult race, but also quite predictable. No matter how strong the field is, the best will eventually ride at the front.”

Alpecin-Deceuninck sees pressure to win

Pressure is building going into the spring classics for Alpecin-Deceuninck to strike a win. (Photo: TOM GOYVAERTS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

There’s been some rumbling across Benelux after a relatively slow start to 2023 for the Alpecin-Deceuninck team.

Jasper Philipsen crashed at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and Silvan Dillier crashed out with a fracture. New recruit Kaden Groves had bad luck in Le Samyn on Tuesday.

The team lags in the UCI rankings and is still looking for its first win.

“Mathieu is in very good shape. Within two weeks the world could look completely different,” Roodhooft said. “Every team faces such things. So we don’t want to hide behind it. Our start is mediocre and other teams are doing well, but it’s not like we’re crying in a corner.

“In the end, our leaders have barely raced. A total of 12 of our riders trained at altitude. We do this to aim even higher in the races that matter to us, but that also has consequences.”

“We will only be able to say afterward if we were stupid or we did the right thing,” he said. “If March and April are also disappointing, we will have to rethink our strategy, but within two weeks the world could look completely different.”

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