Mathieu van der Poel: “Experience is important? You have to have the legs”

Interview

More than two hours after his second victory in the Tour of Flanders, Mathieu van der Poel appeared – with an empty stomach – at the mandatory press conference. For one more time the account of his day. And of his last weeks and months. “I would not have dared to predict this on March 17, no.”

Winning the Tour of Flanders requires a lot from a rider. During the game, but also afterwards. It was just after half past four when Mathieu van der Poel shouted out his joy in the Minderbroederstraat. After the hug with mom Corinne and friend Roxanne, the flash interviewsafter which Van der Poel… had to exercise patience.

After all, the organizers opted to wait with the podium ceremony until after the women’s competition, which concluded an hour later. After that, Van der Poel was also allowed to explain it again in the Sporza studio at the Center Ronde van Vlaanderen. With hamburger, of course. “Meanwhile, I am immensely hungry.”

He recounted how he had enjoyed the public turnout, saw the sprint again for the first time – ‘I think I’m starting at the right time’ – and reiterates once again that he has also secured Tadej Pogačar a place on the awarded podium. That his legs had never been so sour before on the top of the Paterberg and that he already saw some personal bests on his Strava account while waiting.

Only then can Van der Poel go to the room where he addresses the written press. It is then a quarter to seven, well over two hours after the game.

About the poker… How much further could the finish have been before Dylan van Baarle passed you?
“The finish was where it was. So that doesn’t matter. Poker is always played in a denouement like this, I think. In the last kilometer nobody immediately goes full speed with a competitor in the wheel. Today was no different.”

Your third sprint duel in as many years. How stressful is that?
“I don’t feel any stress. There is only the focus on the sprint. Also today I was very calm. The only goal at that point is to try to engage at the right time. I managed it well.”

Oudenaarde – photo: Cor Vos

Did you learn anything from your sprint defeat from last year? Something that has helped you now?
“I didn’t make any mistakes in the sprint last year. Sometimes you do everything as it should be, but one is stronger and you get beaten. That was the case with Kasper Asgreen then.”

Experience is important, they say.
“Ah, I also came fourth here on my first participation. Despite bad luck on the way. You must have the legs. As Pogačar had by the way. He has once again proved today what a talent he is.”

Are you now completely back to the level you should be on? Or are you missing something?
“I am at my best level, yes. I don’t think I’m missing anything. Maybe this is power wise even my best Tour of Flanders. Thanks to Pogačar. He was impressive on the slopes.”

Is this victory more beautiful than your first, when you beat Van Aert?
“It’s hard to compare. Although today the satisfaction is very great. On the one hand, because this edition was with an audience. That makes it more special. On the other hand, because I worked very hard to come back.”

Barely two and a half weeks ago, you decided to ride Milan-San Remo. Since then you finished third there, you won a stage in the Coppi e Bartali and you won both Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Ronde. Did you dare to predict this?
“Of course not. Although I knew that my level was okay. That’s what my data indicated. But racing is different from training. So no, don’t think about that. But it is and remains a nice reward for the hard work.”

It has been 1981 since two more Dutchmen were on the podium of the Ronde. Then there were even three. Do you think this is special?
“Winning is special anyway. And I wholeheartedly wish Dylan that podium place. We know each other. He was my roommate at a World Cup a few times. It’s nice to have him on the podium.”

Two Dutchmen on the podium in the Ronde. That was from 1981 – photo: Cor Vos

Back to Tadej Pogačar again. That is a Tour winner who can win the Tour of Flanders. Conversely, can a Tour of Flanders winner also…
“New.”

… win the Tour? Or transform into a round rider in the long run?
“No, I do not think so. Once again, Tadej is incredibly talented. He proved that again this week.”

Can Tadej Pogačar also win Paris-Roubaix?
“Yes. Although I am convinced that he will come into its own in the Tour of Flanders, with the many slopes. Roubaix is ​​completely flat. But he can definitely win it.”

Has he taken over the role of Wout van Aert today?
“Wout would certainly have been there in the final. That’s why I’d rather ride this race with him than without him. And it is true that today Pogačar was a grateful companion. Those are men who race, from afar. It is also the fairest way to get to the final with the best riders. But it would indeed have been even more special with Wout. Hopefully he will get fit for Roubaix.”

Now the Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix follow. Is Liège-Bastogne-Liège still an option?
“It’s not completely certain yet, but as you know there is a real chance that I will ride the Giro. Then Liège is too much. After Roubaix I take a few days of rest and then I leave for Denia on an altitude training course (Hotel Syncrosfera, where rooms are equipped with material that simulates altitude conditions, ed.), as I did in the weeks before Milan-San Remo.”