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Mathieu van der Poel in doubt for USA worlds trip after flare-up of back pain

Three-time defending world cyclocross champion will take a break from training to try to recover in time to start the Fayetteville worlds in January.

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Back pain is back for Mathieu van der Poel, and it might short-circuit his cyclocross world title defense at Fayetteville next month.

Under doctor’s orders, the Alpecin-Fenix star will take an immediate break from training and racing, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Things are so bad that van der Poel hinted he might not be able to be in top condition in time to defend his world cyclocross title January 29-30 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“Everyone knows that the world championships in the United States is the first big goal of 2022, but it is certainly not the only or the last one,” van der Poel said Tuesday. “I want to fully recover first, without time pressure so that I can use my full possibilities.

“I will therefore only resume competition when I’m completely ready,” he said. “If I make it to the world championships, that’s all the better. If it’s not the case, I’ll be looking forward to the spring season on the road.”

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On Tuesday, officials said worsening back pain — which has been hampering him since his crash last summer at the Tokyo Olympics mountain bike race — will force him to skip the Azencross race in Loenhout, Belgium, on Thursday and the World Cup stop in Hulst in the Netherlands.

Officials said the Dutch star noticed a tingle of back pain following the World Cup race in Dendermonde last Sunday, and the discomfort worsened during the race at Heusden-Zolder, where van der Poel DNF’d “out of precaution.”

Medical examinations Tuesday morning revealed a swelling on an intervertebral disc, which means van der Poel will  “temporarily put the bike aside,” officials confirmed.

“It’s frustrating, but it is what it is,” van der Poel said. “The problem has been there for some time, and I am somewhat relieved that there is an identifiable cause that can be remedied with extra rest and treatment.”

It is unclear when the Alpecin-Fenix ​​rider will resume training and competition, casting further doubt about his ability to travel and compete in top form in time for the world championships in about four weeks.

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Doctors scheduled a check-up following New Year’s, and then everyone will huddle to determine when van der Poel will resume training.

“Obviously this is a setback, but there is no reason for panic,” said team manager Christoph Roodhooft. “The doctors guarantee us a full recovery and that is a priority at the moment. Even if that would lead to adjusting the ambitions for the cyclocross world championships.

“In the short term, that would be a shame, but 2022 offers a lot of sporting challenges for which physical readiness is a first condition.”