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Valverde, van der Poel confirm classics debuts

Valverde will race on the cobbles wearing the rainbow jersey, while van der Poel will continue to transition from cyclocross to the road.

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Two riders at opposite ends of their respective careers are making plans for highly anticipated debuts in the spring classics.

Reigning world road champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) confirmed he will return to Dwars door Vlaanderen ahead of a likely first-time run at the Tour of Flanders. Last year, Valverde finished a respectable 11th in a chase group containing Greg Van Avermaet, Niki Terpstra, and Jasper Stuyven. Valverde, who raced Dwars last year to get a taste of race-speed cobbles in anticipation of the Tour de France, has already confirmed he will race the Tour of Flanders this year for the first time as part of his campaign in the rainbow jersey.

“I am realistic and I know a race like Flanders you cannot win without really knowing that race,” he said. “I’m looking forward to wearing the rainbow jersey in every race I go to.”

And Paris-Roubaix? “No way,” he said. “Maybe if I gain six or seven kilos.”

The 38-year-old Valverde has yet to confirm his season debut, but it’s possible he could join a growing stable of stars heading to Tour of Colombia in February. Valverde typically makes his season debut at the Mallorca Challenge ahead of a string of Spanish races such as the Volta a Valenciana, Vuelta a Murcia and the Volta a Catalunya before the spring classics.

There’s even more growing anticipation about what races cyclocross king Mathieu van der Poel will race in the spring as he continues with his transition into road racing. Van der Poel enjoyed solid road success in 2018, winning the Dutch national road title, the Ronde van Limburg, and two stages at the Arctic Race of Norway.

The anticipation is only compounding the dramatic debut last year of cyclocross rival Wout van Aert, who was third at Strade Bianche, ninth at Flanders, and 13th at Paris-Roubaix.

Van der Poel, 24, has already confirmed via an interview with Sporza that he will race at Gent-Wevelgem as well as the renamed E3 BinckBank Classic (formerly E3 Harelbeke).

Belgian race organizers are rubbing their hands together in delight at a possible face-off between van Aert and Van der Poel in their races. The Dutch cyclocross superstar will need his Corenden-Circus team to receive invites, but that’s hardly expected to be a problem if Van der Poel is expected to race.

“Racing Flanders and Paris-Roubaix depends if we receive an invitation,” Van der Poel told Sporza. “I’ve always believed it’s possible to combine cyclocross and the spring classics, and last year van Aert proved it.”

Van der Poel also said he’s in no hurry to decide which discipline he’ll pursue in the future. He’s hinted that he would like to have a shot at an Olympic medal in mountain biking in 2020. He’ll continue racing cyclocross and begin to integrate more road racing into his program.

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