2021 has served up numerous opportunities to watch the Dutchman rip it up in ‘cross and on the road, going head-to-head with his frenemy Wout van Aert on both types of bike. But we haven’t yet gotten to see how the 26-year old’s phenomenal form will affect his skills on the mountain bike.
Van der Poel has been clear for years: his big goal is mountain biking in Tokyo. Riding well at the first two World Cups of the season — this weekend’s in Albstadt and then the following in Nové Město na Moravě — have major implications for Olympic selection.
The course in Albstadt, which consists of a 4.2km lap that serves up two long, steep climbs followed by technical descents, should favor the Alpecin-Fenix rider; in 2019, he won the short track (XCC) on the same course in Germany’s Black Forest region.
We haven’t seen van der Poel on the mountain bike much since the pandemic began in early 2020 — he opted to sit out the two World Cup races in Nové Město as well as worlds in Leogang, Austria. However, he’s put in quite the effort on his other bikes in early 2021, nabbing the cyclocross world champion title, victory at Strade Bianche, and near-victory at the Tour of Flanders.
Van der Poel’s last World Cup MTB season was 2019, when he won every single short track (XCC) race and nearly every XCO. His only second place finish was at Albstadt, where he took second to Swiss rider Mathias Flueckiger.
During the weekend’s races, there will be plenty of riders willing and ready to face off with the European XCO champ. Nino Schurter, cross-country’s most decorated rider, has his own unique agenda for Albstadt: with 32 career World Cup XCO wins, he’s just one short of the record held by Julian Absalon.
One of van der Poel’s fierce rivals in ‘cross this year will also challenge him on the singletrack during this World Cup event; Ine0s-Grenadiers Tom Pidcock is fresh off a win at last weekend’s Swiss Cup, and the U23 XCO MTB world champ is riding into his first season in the elite ranks of cross-country on a very high note.
Catch van der Poel, Schurter, Pidcock, world champ Jordan Sarrou, and more as they throw down in Germany Friday and Saturday on Red Bull TV.