“When I’ve see Mathieu race in the last few weeks, there is less and less doubt about it,” said van Aert when asked about the likelihood of van der Poel defending his 2019 title.
Van der Poel bagged his 22nd and 23rd wins of the season over the weekend, at Kasteelcross Zonnebeke and World Cup Hoogerheiede. The Dutchman won both races without contest, launching unstoppable moves and soloing to victory. As has become typical this season, van der Poel played it cool in the lead bunch through the start of both races before choosing his moment to ride off to victory.
“I am very satisfied with this weekend,” says Van der Poel. “I have shown that I am at the right level in the run-up to the World Championship.”
Van der Poel started his cross season late after a heavy season on the road. In his initial races back in the mud there was less of a kick in his attacks. But now, that sting is back, and he knows it.
“I felt strong while riding in the group and put all my money on one big move,” van der Poel said after his Hoogerheide victory. “I think that I found back my ‘cross accelerations just in time.”
Since December, van der Poel has won 14 races consecutively, and even powerful competitors such as World Cup winner Toon Aerts, Eli Iserbyt, and van Aert have been left racing for the remaining podium slots. Van Aert sees the world championships also coming down to a race for second place.
“In the beginning [of the season] there was still some hope, but now he [van der Poel] seems to be racing like last year,” said van Aert after Sunday’s World Cup race.
Van Aert only returned to racing in late December last year as he completed his recovery from injuries sustained in a heavy crash at the Tour de France. Though he’s not yet hit the form that saw him win three consecutive world championships, he’s not been far off, netting four top-5 finishes and an eighth in his five race starts. Fellow Belgians Aerts and Iserbyt have consistently placed above him.
Van Aert is anticipating Aerts and Iserbyt as his key rivals for second place on Sunday. However, despite placing second-best to his countrymen for much of the season so far, van Aert isn’t writing off his chances at the world championships.
“They are a bit better, but at a world championship … I have the impression that behind Mathieu a lot can be done for the top-10,” he said.
With van der Poel’s motor truly warmed up and running, the majority of the racing to be watched in Dubendorf may be in the scrap for podium places behind the Dutch wunderkind.