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Van der Poel and team admit he’s a marked man for Flanders

After stunning the WorldTour peloton with a win at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Mathieu van der Poel and his team say, "The surprise factor is gone."

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WAREGEM, Belgium (VN) — Mathieu van der Poel and Team Corendon-Circus played down their chances at the Tour of Flanders after winning the Dwars door Vlaanderen, saying that their “surprise factor is gone.”

In his second-ever WorldTour race on Wednesday, the 24-year-old Dutchman won. Just three days before the Tour of Flanders, everyone is talking about a van der Poel victory in Oudenaarde.

“In a good day, for sure he can win, but it won’t happen probably,” team manager Christoph Roodhooft told VeloNews. “It’s a difficult race, it’s 250km.

“He’s given his name card today [in the Dwars door Vlaanderen] so he didn’t make it easier on himself, so the surprise factor is gone already. It won’t be an easy one but there are many years to come.”

Van der Poel has dominated World Cup cyclocross, and he won his second world championship title this winter. His father Adri raced and won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Flanders, and stages in the Tour de France. His maternal grandfather, Raymond Poulidor famously finished second overall in the Tour de France three times. Everyone already knew about van der Poel, but the hype has ratcheted up.

“Even then it was always like, he won Denain [two weeks ago] and they said it’s only Denain,” continued Roodhooft. “But now it’s Waregem, so what’s next? We will see, Flanders is a completely different race.”

Van der Poel attacked and moved free with established stars like Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal). He then beat them in the sprint. The result followed a fourth-place finish in his longest race ever — and his first WorldTour event — Gent-Wevelgem.

“I have done two times this distance. I knew I had a chance [for the Dwars door Vlaanderen],” explained van der Poel. “I was at the right place at the right moment this time when I attacked. I knew when we were five or six guys at the front that we were going to ride for victory.”

His Professional Continental team is helping him debut in the spring cobbled classics this year. He showed he could race the distance, but inexperience may catch up with him in his first monument race on Sunday.

He has never raced the Tour of Flanders with its Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg final. He has only raced the Koppenberg climb in his cyclocross campaigns over the past winters. Also, Flanders ends with a much punchier finale than Gent-Wevelgem or Dwars door Vlaanderen, which could allow the experienced stars like Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to have their say.

“Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders are completely different. I would not say I am a big favorite, but just underneath them. But I hope so,” said van der Poel.

“In Wevelgem it was still 30 kilometers to the finish line [after the last climb]. In Flanders, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg are just 20 kilometers to the finish. The group that has gone there, most of the time, stays gone.

“If I have the legs, maybe it is possible [to get away on Paterberg] but I am not the only guy who is going to try it.”