Road

Door is open for Mathieu van der Poel to race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Dutch star would need to clear more rounds of controls ahead of Saturday's race.

Matthieu van der Poel and several Alpecin-Fenix teammates headed home overnight despite a few members of the team’s entourage remaining under watch for possible COVID-19 exposure.

Could this open the door for van der Poel to possibly race Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad? Maybe.

Race organizers would certainly welcome the international star to Omloop.

“Of course, we want him to race,” Flanders Classics CEO Tomas van den Spiegel told VeloNews on Tuesday. “It is possible he can race if he meets all the requirements of the protocols. If he is compliant, he can race.”

A lot has to fall in place within the next few days.

The team pulled out of the UAE Tour on Monday after one of its staffers tested positive for COVID-19 on routine controls Sunday evening. The results were returned after van der Poel had sprinted to victory in Sunday’s first stage at the UAE Tour.

Van der Poel was among a handful of riders and team staffers who left the United Arab Emirates on Monday following health protocols that included contact tracing and more health screenings.

After being cleared for low-risk contact and testing negative on PCR tests, they were allowed to return to the Netherlands and were expected to arrive Tuesday morning. Other riders who returned to Europe include Jasper Philipsen, Kristian Sbaragli, and Louis Vervaeke, as well as some staff members.

Could this open the door for a possible start at the Belgian classics opener Saturday at Omloop? Perhaps.

Alpecin-Fenix is already on Omloop’s start list. Under UCI rules, riders are required to clear two COVID-19 controls in the days before the race. Since he’s already cleared one within that time frame, there could be time to conduct another control before Saturday, and if he’s healthy, he could race.

Another hurdle would be additional requirements imposed by the Belgian government. Van der Poel would need to clear another COVID control by Wednesday per UCI rules, as well as an additional control before entering Belgium as required by local authorities. Race organizers will then re-test the entire Omloop peloton 24 hours before the race.

If all that happens, van der Poel would be allowed to race.

Of course, it also depends in part on van der Poel and the team directors. Perhaps van der Poel would not want to race such a demanding event as the Belgian classics opener after the stresses of travel and the COVID incident. Team officials said the rider’s rescheduling will be considered in “due course.”

Van der Poel had opted to skip Belgium’s “opener weekend” in favor of a week of racing in the warmth of the United Arab Emirates following a busy cyclocross season. His next scheduled race is Strade Bianche on March 6.

With or without van der Poel, Omloop opens the Belgians classics season Saturday. Several top names are slated to race, including world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), defending champion Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën) and Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal). Intermarché Wanty-Gobert Matérieaux will be racing on home roads as a WorldTour team for the first time.

Star rider Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is steering clear of Omloop, and is expected to make his 2021 road season debut at Strade Bianche to defend his title. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is another absentee following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis earlier this month.

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, held the following day on Sunday, completes Belgium’s “opening weekend.”