I must admit, I’m late to the Mathieu van der Poel party (not a euphemism).
I take no interest in cyclo-cross, see, a sport of which he is the reigning, reigning, reigning champ. I’ve heard of his exploits but have no real context against which to measure him.
My understanding of his status in that world is based solely on the impressive length and girth of the ‘Major Results’ section of his Wikipedia page. It’s an absurd list for a bloke in his early twenties.
His ‘cross nemesis Wout van Aert I’m more familiar with, following his debut season at the pointy end of road cycling in 2018. But while van Aert has been solidly impressive in a grimly determined I-can-suffer-longer-than-you kind of way van der Poel, on the road, where I can see him, looks like more than that.
The way he made his competitors suffer during his Spring 2019 win at Dwaars door Vlaanderen, relentless, almost cruel in his attacking, had me scrabbling for a white towel to throw at the screen, a mercy surrender on behalf of his competitors.
Had the referee been able to keep up he’d have been dishing out mandatory eight-counts all round and raising VDP’s arm as THE NEW…
The new what?
The new Peter Sagan?
It’s a bold question.
Is the old Peter Sagan really, y’know…the old Peter Sagan yet?Embed from Getty Images
Van der Poel followed up Dwaars door Vlaanderen with wins at Brabantse Pijl, the Amstel Gold Race, and the GP de Denain, and fourth places at the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. And all, it has to be said, in total swashbuckling style.
Not bad. For a cyclo-cross rider with a part time job as a road cyclist. As a mildly obsessed pro cycling fan I don’t know whether to feel aggrieved that he’s making it look so easy or kneel down and hail the new king.
Though, to be clear, I’m old enough to be his dad, so any kneeling and anointing will be purely metaphorical.
Were he Belgian we’d be hailing the new Merckx, of course, but we’ve already established that Remco Evenepoel currently carries that particularly weighty monkey on his slender teenaged back.
Van der Poel is Dutch.
Is he the new Hennie Kuiper? The new Jan Raas? The new Jan Janssen?
Add dad Adrie and Grandad Poulidor into the mix, and chuck in a Niki Terpstra and a Wout Poels for good luck, and he’s already starting to look like the combined total of all of them.
(Top Image: by Roel Driever via Flickr CC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/driever/24587794565)