25 Jul 2018

Mathieu van der Poel - Netherlands' rising star

When an athlete comes to a major sporting event, spectators normally have one chance to spot them competing for glory in their preferred sport.

If you’re a fan of Dutch cycling star Mathieu van der Poel you’ll have two chances – and he’s hoping to do his best in both. 

Aged just 23, neither road nor mountain-bike racing are the Dutchman’s speciality but looking at the success he has enjoyed in both disciplines, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

With enough jerseys in his wardrobe to dress a football team, the young racer is making a habit of winning on the big stage since dominating at junior level.

A world champion in cyclo-cross and on the road as a junior, he became the first rider since Niels Albert in 2004 to take an under-23 race victory as a first-year rider as he won the second round of the season at Tabor in the Czech Republic at the World Cup.

Since turning pro in 2014 he has dominated the cyclo-cross circuit winning bags of world cups and more recently, became Dutch champion on the road.

With his sights set on Tokyo 2020, he is now focusing all his energy into becoming a world beater at both mountain biking and road, as cyclo-cross isn’t a discipline at the Olympics.

He also is fresh off the back of a cross-country short circuit win in Italy at the UCI World Cup.

The European Championships spoke to him ahead of his visit to Glasgow as he looks forward to competing in mountain biking and the road race.

You’re the first athlete to compete in both the road cycling and the mountain biking events at European Championships level, how does that feel?

For me it feels normal, I’ve been doing it all summer already, combining the two, it was for me pretty obvious to try and do it at the European Championships as the mountain biking is on Tuesday and the road race is on Sunday, so for me it was quite obvious that I could combine those two.

How have you found balancing the two at the moment?

I think pretty well, of course mountain biking is very specific I think this season I’ve got some great results, winning a few short tracks and being on the podium regularly but I think the road season is going pretty good as well.

You just won the Dutch road championships, it must set you up nicely going into the Euros?

Yes that was really nice, I wasn’t quite expecting that and it was close to home as well so that was a really big victory and it’s cool to participate at the European Championship as a national champion of your country.

Do you think it gives you an advantage or disadvantage over your competitors by doing both disciplines?

No, I think I take my rest when I need it but I feel at an advantage because the competition in mountain biking is extremely high as well and it pushes me to new limits and I have to maintain both training methods, which I think works for racing and mountain biking really well.

If you had to choose what would your favourite discipline be?

It’s difficult to say, I get that question a lot, but the combination between the two is what makes it so good for me and especially in summer that’s what I like, when I’m on the mountain bike I really enjoy it but then when I’m on the road bike it’s intense and it’s nice as well.

Why do you think you’re so good at both disciplines, what do you put that down to?

I don’t know, good question, I think you need to have your legs in both disciplines so that’s the main thing. I enjoy mountain biking because of the technique and road racing is a bit different but I can really enjoy a race as well.

What’s the minimum for you coming into Glasgow, what would you leave happy or unhappy with?

In mountain biking I’m aiming for the title definitely, and I don’t really know what to expect from the road race, it’s going to be a hard race with some big names as well and I haven’t done that too often, I don’t really know how the course is going to be either so that’s a big question mark for me as well.

The British team has recently been announced, the likes of Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas will be in Glasgow, how do you think you’d fair against those two?

That’s depends on how hard the course is going to be! I don’t know, if you see what Thomas is doing now in the Tour de France, it’s quite exceptional, so I don’t really see myself winning against those guys, but maybe I can put up a good race.

Talk me through that win in Italy in the World Cup in Italy, it must give you a lot of confidence?

Yes that was on the short track so it was a little bit different, than the cross country discipline, but I think it’s something that suits me really well and it’s more like cycle cross, it’s going to be difficult but I think it’s something I could go to and get the jersey.

What are you expecting from your season after Glasgow?

I think the season has been really good so far already, especially with the national title on the road, but for me what’s left is to do a really good race at the World Championships on the mountain bike. 

What are the last few weeks looking like for you before Glasgow?

Well I’m just resting now until Glasgow, and I will build up again before the European Championships, I get into Glasgow on the Saturday, so a couple of days before I’ll be ready.