A week after Mathieu van der Poel said that we live in the era of Tadej Pogacar, he himself gave the best reason to question that statement on Sunday. Because after Van der Poel plunged solo into the Roubaix vélodrome on Sunday and won his second monument this year (and fourth overall), you’re justified in wondering aloud: aren’t we living in the age of Mathieu? from der Pool? ?
Van der Poel is only the fourth cyclist to win both Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in the same year, after Belgian Cyrille Van Hauwaert (1908), Irish Sean Kelly (1986) and German John Degenkolb (2015). ) . ). With his four victories in the five biggest one-day cycle races, Van der Poel also equaled Hennie Kuiper and Jan Raas as the best Dutch classic cyclists. “I don’t really think about it, but I’m good at one-day races and I focus on that, so the monuments suit me,” Van der Poel said after Paris-Roubaix.
It’s no surprise this year to see Van der Poel compete for victory in the classics. In Milan-Sanremo he already showed that he was in top form with a special attack on the Poggio and subsequent victory. In the races in which he then started, he competed to the final for victory and was second twice (E3 Saxo Classic and Ronde van Vlaanderen). He drives fewer races than last year, Van der Poel said on Sunday. “That makes me stronger in the skills that matter to me.”
The 28-year-old Dutchman also takes a different approach to his season’s training sessions and split. For example, last Wednesday he competed for the first time on the Scheldeprijs, a flat course for sprinters where he normally has nothing to do. But he wanted to keep up with his match and approached it as a training session, Van der Poel said. He every once in a while he’d just light up, and then he’d fly past the pack in an instant, he’d write ADVERTISEMENTjournalist Thijs Zonneveld, who participated in the Scheldeprijs.
Van der Poel is the cyclist with the brightest ideas in the current peloton, the man who always has a plan with which he manages to surprise his opponents (and the public that has gathered). He had also given careful thought to how he wanted to set up the final on Sunday, if it had come to that. “The last time I had to run here [in 2021, na een dag vol regen modder, red.] I turned on too late and got stuck. So I wanted to start earlier this time.”
That was not necessary at all this Sunday. Van der Poel had luck on his side when on one of the toughest cobbled sections, Carrfour de l’Arbre, shortly after he and Van Aert had broken away from the pack, the Belgian had a puncture. After that, there was still a lonely 15 kilometers to go, but after narrowly avoiding a road barrier, Van der Poel’s victory was no longer in jeopardy.
Now, like Pogacar, he has won three of the five monuments. After the Slovenian won the Tour of Flanders last week and Van der Poel lost in the final, Pogacar’s teammate Sjoerd Bax called him “a alien”. That’s not Van der Poel, says Belgian teammate Jasper Philipsen, who finished second in Roubaix. “He is human, but a super strong rider. One of the best in the world.” For Van der Poel they have a different nickname in Alpécin-Deceuninck, says Jonas Rickaert, another Belgian teammate. “For a long time I have called him the monument man. It’s unbelievable that he can win two in one year.”
Now that Pogacar and Van der Poel are both three of five, the question is whether they can complete the five. “I don’t know anymore,” says Rickaert. “But Mathieu continues to surprise everyone. I think he has the capabilities, so I think he’s capable of doing that.”
This is also where the differences between Van der Poel and Pogacar become apparent: the Slovenian, also a good climber and cross-country cyclist, has won the two monuments where climbers usually have the best chances –Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy –. , the Dutch are precisely the monuments – Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix – that the heaviest and most explosive cyclists can win. Only the Tour of Flanders was won by both.
There are only three riders who currently stand out, says Philipsen when asked about Van der Poel’s dominance. “If one of these three men leaves, then you know they have something extra”, which is also referring to Van Aert -who won Milan-Sanremo- as well as Van der Poel and Pogacar.
The rest of the peloton admire the trio that currently dominates cycling, says Rickaert, “They are three great palmeros.” He is clear: this is the era of the ‘Big Three’. “It’s a luxury to be able to ride a bike with those men.”