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Why rivalry between Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel will top Tom Boonen-Fabian Cancellara era

Trek-Segafredo manager Luca Guercilena, who worked closely with the Swiss star, believes today's generation is even deeper and more competitive than during the Cancellara-Boonen heyday.

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Could Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel be today’s version of the classics duel between Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara a generation ago?

Yes, but even better.

That’s according to Luca Guercilena, longtime manager of Cancellara during his time at Trek-Segafredo and the Swiss national team.

“Yes, it is a very similar scenario,” Guercilena told VeloNews. “Like Tom and Fabian, they are very big guys, and they’ve racing against each other for a long time now. If one doesn’t win, the other is often there. There is a natural comparison for those two, and they are very young, so it will now be for some years competitive.”

Guercilena had a front-row seat to one of the most important rivalries in the history of classics racing.

Now general manager at Trek-Segafredo, Guercilena first worked with Cancellara as a coach at the Swiss national team. Guercilena was there when Cancellara won two Olympic gold medals in the time trial – in 2008 and again in 2016 — and worked with him at Leopard-Trek, RadioShack and Trek-Segafredo in the closing years of Cancellara’s career.

For more than a decade, Boonen and Cancellara sparred on the cobbles and across cycling’s biggest stages. If Boonen didn’t win, Cancellara often did. The pair won six editions of Tour of Flanders and seven editions of Paris-Roubaix between them from 2005 to 2014.

Guercilena is back in the driver’s seat coming into the 2021 classics season. The team is hot off winning a monument with Jasper Stuyven at Milano-Sanremo, and will bring Mads Pedersen, winner of Gent-Wevelgem last year, into the frame over the next several weeks.

Also read: How Jasper Stuyven’s ‘all-in’ bet paid off with San Remo jackpot

Just as van Aert and van der Poel are dominating the conversation coming into this year’s spring classics, Boonen and Cancellara were hogging the headlines a generation ago.

But Guercilena adds an important caveat — today’s rivalry will be even better.

Why? Because it’s not just two big rivals dominating all the races, but rather that van Aert and van der Poel come along as the peloton is deeper than ever across the spring classics and one-day races.

“I see an even better generation now than with Fabian and Tom,” Guercilena told VeloNews in a phone call. “When they were racing, they were the two guys fighting very hard in all the big races until Peter Sagan came.

“Now today, you have many winners,” he said. “Now you have them [van der Poel and van Aert], you have Alaphilippe, [Marc] Hirschi, [Remco] Evenepoel when he will be back. And we can also say Jasper and Mads, so it is a generation that is very, very competitive. There are a bunch of young kids who are very good, so we are looking at a good five, six years of very exciting racing.”

Alberto Contador: ‘Their rivalry is a blessing for cycling’

Retired grand tour star Alberto Contador echoed those comments, saying that the growing rivalry is a boon for cycling.

“Van der Poel is charismatic and attracts the fans, and that’s great for cycling,” Contador told El Mundo. “His rivalry with van Aert is a blessing, and it’s even bigger than Boonen and Cancellara. They’ve been going at each other since they were juniors, in both cyclocross and the road. One day, one wins, and then the next, the other.

“And the best thing is that I’ve never heard one say a bad thing about the other. And they try to win every race they start.”

Of course, the duo of  “VanderWout” still has some catching up to do. Between them, they’ve won two monuments; Flanders in 2020 for van der Poel and Milano-Sanremo for van Aert, also in 2020.

Cancellara and Boonen won 14 monuments between them, with seven each. Boonen won four Roubaix and three Flanders, while Cancellara won three apiece at Flanders and Roubaix, along with one San Remo.

Rivalry is one thing, palmarès is something else.