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Van der Poel hit the Tour fully pumped for the grand départ but slowly deflated through the first week and abandoned in the Alps.
Two weeks later, the team still isn’t sure what went wrong.
“His body looks healthy after tests. It must have just been some bad moments,” team director Christoph Roodhooft told VeloNews during the Tour last week.
“We think it was a bit of a struggle between physical feeling and mental condition in the end. When you end up in the Tour and not on the highest level, these things happen.”
Van der Poel pointed toward insufficient recovery from a full-gas Giro d’Italia as the cause of his Tour de France flop.
A stage win, three days in pink and a beyond-bodyweight ride through the mountains saw Van der Poel empty the engine ahead of a hasty turnaround for the Tour.
“I think that something went wrong with the altitude training camp after the Giro and before the Tour,” Van der Poel told NOS.
“I didn’t feel like I came out of the Giro completely empty, on the contrary. Maybe my body was still recovering and it didn’t recover enough at altitude. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I have the feeling that it has something to do with that.”
Roodhooft and the Alpecin-Deceuninck backroom are leaving Van der Poel to brood before booking in his races for the rest of the season.
“He had some days off after the Tour, but it didn’t feel like a vacation. He had to quit the race which he’s not used to, he didn’t like it. He now has to restart with a fresh mood as well as possible,” Roodhooft said.
The Aussie road worlds in September are the only certainty in Van der Poel’s late-season road program. Mountain bike World Cups and cyclocross competition are still far from the agenda.
“We’ve not discussed a calendar yet, we wanted to give him some time for himself,” Roodhooft said. “After we finish at the Tour we’ll see how we can finish 2022 in a good way.”
The WorldTour future: ‘The identity of the team won’t change’
Alpecin Deceuninck will want to see Van der Poel back on track fast.
The team will be pinning its hopes on the Dutchman and double Tour stage winner Jasper Philipsen as it applies for a WorldTour future starting in 2023.
“We’re working on the roster, but the identity of the team won’t change. We have no ambition GC-wise or whatever. We want to remain as a team that races for wins,” Roodhooft said.
“We keep the classics-focus, and remain a team that tries to control the stage races to win from time to time.”
Philipsen and van der Poel delivered Alpecin-Deceuninck 10 of its 22 victories so far this season.
The twosome tasted the champagne at Tour of Flanders, the Giro d’Italia, and Tour de France to book the Belgian squad its headline-scooping scores. Tim Merlier contributed a further four wins but is on the way out in 2023.
A raft of new arrivals including rising sprinter Kaden Groves and breakaway ace Søren Kragh Andersen are set to be confirmed when the transfer window opens next season.
“Our biggest ambition has to be a steady value in the WorldTour,” Roodhooft said. “I think if we can achieve that in the coming years, then we’ve done well.”
Alpecin-Deceuninck dominated the ProTour through the past seasons and bossed the WorldTour teams all year long.
A potential membership of pro cycling’s elite in 2023 could seem a case of more of the same.