Mathieu Van der Poel about his love for the Limburg hills

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It has now been three years since Mathieu van der Poel joined the best one-day riders in the peloton with a sensational victory in the Amstel Gold Race. Since that infamous 21e April in 2019 Van der Poel no longer raced on the Limburg roads. He missed the Amstel Gold Race last year with a view to the Olympic mountain bike race in Tokyo. On Sunday, the two-time winner of the Tour of Flanders will return for the first time in the Limburg hill zone.

“Internationally, that victory in the Amstel Gold Race was my big breakthrough”, Van der Poel looked back on that victory in an interview for CyclingFlash and the Limburg magazine Number 1† “The final was extremely hectic and this denouement was a big surprise for everyone. That spring I was already very satisfied with my victories in Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Brabantse Pijl. Also the performance in the Tour of Flanders, where I finished fourth, gave me a lot of satisfaction. Especially because after all the bad luck and a long chase in the deep final, I was still able to impress on the last climb, the Paterberg. Those are beautiful moments. Although it is of little use afterwards, because you do not read it back in the results. Perhaps the bad luck of Flanders that year was my luck in the Amstel Gold Race.”

Do you feel that that victory in the Amstel Gold Race has brought you a step further?
,,I already knew a little bit what I had to offer. Even before the Amstel Gold Race, I still had my doubts whether a race of 260 kilometers on this sloping course was within my capabilities. I doubted whether it would be just too hard for me in the battle with the real climbers and punchers. After five or six hours in the race I realized that I was able to maintain my position in the pack quite easily from the front. When you’re heading from the front, after all that twisting, you’ll ride those steep hills and turns up easier than if you had to wriggle in the middle of the group. That has given me a lot of confidence.”

Mathieu van der Poel wins Tour of Flanders 2022. Photo: Cor Vos

Win the Amstel Gold Race in red-white-blue as Dutch champion. Did it also feel like winning a home game for you in 2019?
“South Limburg has always played a special role in my life. Around the age of fifteen, when I rode with the novices and juniors, we regularly went to Valkenburg training camp. We then stayed a few days in Kasteeldomein Landal on top of the Cauberg and went into the Limburg hills or the Ardennes. I liked racing here and over the years I got to know a lot of people there. We explored the course for the Amstel, but actually that was not necessary for me. I know almost every road in the hilly landscape. It felt special that on the roads where I often cycled as a boy, I now managed to win the most important classic.”

In the youth categories, ‘MVDP’ already made an impression in the Limburg races. In the Omloop van Margraten he won as a newcomer in bar and angry again by driving everyone in the last lap at one and a half minutes. In the Omloop van de Maasvallei, the current leader of Alpecin-Fenix ​​returned from a lost position by making up for three minutes and then managed to win the match. Those were some impressive performances.

Photo: Cor Vos

,,I can still see that arrival in Margraten in my mind. I know that I liked to race in Limburg in the youth categories because you can make a difference on those hills at that age. Very different from the competitions in Brabant where it was flat. We consciously sought out those more difficult matches. Our dad knows Limburg well, of course. He emphasized that as a young rider you could get stronger by riding uphill. Those Limburg hills fitted in well with my training sessions for cross-country skiing, which also involved short and explosive efforts.”

What is your favorite climb in Limburg?
,,Camerig, because it is slightly longer and gradually rises. In the training sessions I prefer to do this kind of climb, while in a competition the steeper climbs suit me better. That sounds like a contradiction. Sometimes, however, you prefer to do something in training than in a race. In recent years I have been on an altitude training course in Livigno in the Italian Dolomites a few times. I like to ride the long cols there, even though that is not my favorite activity in a competition. Maybe that’s because I can’t go up with the best in the high mountains and therefore have to suffer extra. At my own pace in training, I think those mountain passes are beautiful.”