Mathieu van der Poel has shown off a sparkling talent across a variety of disciplines in the sport, winning four world championships in cyclocross, becoming European champion in XC mountainbike racing and clocking up success in some of the biggest events on the road.
He blended all three of those disciplines to fine effect on Sunday, netting bronze medal at the first UCI gravel world championships in Citadella, Italy. Van der Poel was undoubtedly one of the strongest in the race but had to make do with third step on the podium after missing out on a key move early on.
“I’m happy for my teammate Gianni Vermeersch. It was pretty obvious when they [Vermeersch and Italian Daniel Oss] got away that no one wanted to chase them and they took five minutes that no one was going to catch them,” he said after the race. “I can’t be disappointed with third place. It was obvious that the race was done there and that the bronze medal was the highest possible. And I managed to do it. So I have to be happy with it.”
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Van der Poel outsprinted former Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) to the line to take the bronze medal, having burned off the other rivals after a long day of hard chasing. While he didn’t win he was warm in his congratulations at the end of the event, crossing the finish line, wheeling to a halt and then embracing race winner Vermeersch, who customarily competes alongside him during the season as part of the Alpecin-Deceuninck squad.
“I think for the team it is another piece of history we rode today, so I think we can be really proud of that,” he said.
As Oss pointed out, one of the most important aspects of the championships were to show that this newer wing of the sport is something which could, and should, grow in the future. The Italian rider was left enthusiastic about gravel racing and Van der Poel is similarly affected.
“I am always excited to do something new. And I think it was a success as well for the first time,” he said. “It has everything to grow to a big discipline.
“I think it was a success how they organized these championships.”
“Gravel is really hard as well, like a combination of road and cyclocross, so I think it can be nice in the future. You can get the same position on the bike as on the road, so it is easier to fit into your schedule. We have the world champion on the team now so he is interested too.”
Importantly, he is already planning his next participation, something which fans of the sport will hope may translate into something bigger in the future.
“It’s new and exciting and fun, and I will race in Friday’s Serenissima Gravel,” he said.
Don’t be surprised if Van der Poel becomes a convert to a wing of the sport which seems particularly well suited to him.