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Van der Poel on Olympics: ‘Four years of planning is lost’

The Dutch star hopes the rescheduled Olympic dates will still allow him to race the spring classics in 2021.

Olympians around the world are reacting with a mix of frustration and understanding in Tuesday’s decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Perhaps none more so than Mathieu van der Poel.

Men’s cycling’s top multi-discipline-star has built his cycling career toward peaking for the Olympic Games. And with Tuesday’s decision to delay the Games until 2021 due to a growing coronavirus crisis, van der Poel’s best-laid plans are torn up.

“It is very unfortunate that the Games have been postponed, but I understand the decision,” van der Poel told Sporza on Tuesday. “Global health comes first. On the other hand, I am left with a bad feeling. Four years ago we drew up a plan for the Tokyo Games. And that plan now falls into the water.”

He admitted that he’s no different than every Olympic cyclist, but he couldn’t hide the sting of Tuesday’s decision.

“It is not easy mentally if you have been working on this for four years,” he said. “But that is the case for everyone who has worked towards a goal in this difficult period in the long term.”

And just like everyone else, the Alpecin-Fenix star has been sidelined since March, as Europe is fighting the coronavirus that’s thrown the racing calendar into disarray.

“For the time being, there is also little clarity when we are ready for races again,” he said. “I cannot make a real plan. As for the Olympic Games in 2021? It is difficult to look ahead. First of all, we have to wait and see when they will let the Games continue.”

Van der Poel was aiming for the gold medal in mountain biking, and with Tuesday’s decision, he’ll be forced to reschedule his already complicated calendar that includes cyclocross, road racing, and mountain biking.

His scheduled is calibrated across three disciplines. Right now, the cyclocross season dovetails into the spring classics. He’s worried if the dates are different for the Olympics in 2021, the Games might force him to miss some road racing.

“I hope for the same period, so that I can finish the classics campaign, as was planned [for 2020],” he said. “The only disadvantage is that I might have to choose between the Olympic Games and a grand tour. But that I will continue mountain biking for the time being for sure. We’ll see the rest later.”

Van der Poel was expected to transition more fully into road racing in 2021. Those plans will have to be rewritten after his road map for 2020 has been abruptly thrown in the trash can.