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Van der Poel: ‘What are we training for?’

With coronavirus leaving the 2020 race season in tatters, van der Poel left questioning when his next race will be.

2020 was going to be Mathieu Van der Poel‘s year. The Dutch wunderkind had an ambitious multi-discipline season in the works, with peaks for Milano-SanRemo and Paris-Roubaix in spring, and then the Olympic mountain bike race in summer. And you wouldn’t have bet against him in any of it.

But now, with the coronavirus pandemic leading to a spate of pro cycling race cancelations through spring and casting a shadow over the rest of the year, van der Poel’s season is up in smoke.

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“What are we still training for?” van der Poel told Het Nieuwsblad this weekend. “Even the Olympic Games are no longer certain.”

In the past week, the spring season has been torn to shreds, with Milano-SanRemo, Tirreno Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya and the Giro d’Italia among the casualties. April’s cobbled monuments of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are looking increasingly unlikely. And if the health pandemic doesn’t abate soon, the whole season looks at risk.

“What is the first race? Roubaix? The Walloon [Ardennes] classics? If so, I will certainly put everything on them,” van der Poel said. “I am not giving up spring completely yet. But it does make it difficult to train. In a sense, it would be better if they give us clarity as soon as possible and say that there is no longer any spring race. Then we can now all start to rest and rebuild towards summer, for example.”

Riders, team staff, and race organizers are all in a holding pattern. Officials have already indicated that while the current plan is for Tour of Flanders to go ahead, it is looking increasingly unfeasible. And with more European nations shutting borders and imposing lockdowns by the day, there’s a question mark over whether riders will even be able to get to the start line.

Van der Poel has managed to find one positive from the situation however. Having been struck down with illness last month and being forced out of the ‘opening weekend’ of the classics, the Dutchman now has time to make up lost training hours.

“In a way I am still lucky: because of my illness I can use all training to lay a foundation again,” he said. “I will do that in the following days: make hours, train, keep fit.”

However, when nobody really knows when the bike race will be, how does a rider plan their training and map out their peaks and downtime?

“That is the most difficult thing: that total uncertainty,” van der Poel said. “All I know is that I will be on my bike tomorrow and complete for hours… But why? What for?”