Mathieu van der Poel is taking a sabbatical on the mountain bike this season. The leader in the Giro d’Italia has decided, in consultation with his Alpecin-Fenix team, to fully focus on road cycling this year. “In 2023, the intention is to get back into the mountain bike routine,” he tells CyclingFlash.
Van der Poel’s busy road program in particular underlies the decision. In 2023, he will shift his focus back to mountain biking. “Then I want to work towards the Olympic Games in Paris”, says MVDP along. He still has an open account with the Games. The 27-year-old Dutchman made a bid for a gold medal last summer, but after half a lap he fell hard when the much-discussed plank at the Sakura Drop was no longer there. Tom Pidcock was crowned Olympic champion in Tokyo.
It is no surprise that Van der Poel wants to continue his mountain bike plans after 2022. The career goal of the Dutchman is to win the world title in all three disciplines (cyclocross, road and mountain biking). At Alpecin-Fenix they have decided not to be involved with mountain biking for a while. Only after a while will the rider and team sit down to discuss the details of the Olympic MTB campaign. After the Giro, Van der Poel will focus on the Tour de France and the World Championship on the road in Wollongong, Australia.
The Olympic cross country race will take place in Elancourt, where there is a track that is said to resemble Nové Město. There will be a World Cup next weekend, which MVDP managed to win in 2019. The UCI Ranking is leading for a possible starting position in Paris. This is a so-called rolling ranking, where only the results over the last twelve months count. The year that Van der Poel now takes time off will therefore not affect his starting position in 2024. It does affect that for the World Cups, although the UCI has recently been meeting the Dutchman in this.
Rule change in favor of Van der Poel
The starting position at the World Cups (the competitions in which the most UCI points can be collected) is determined by a number of criteria. In a World Cup weekend, the Short Track competitions invariably take place on Friday. The first sixteen mountain bikers in the World Cup standings are allowed to participate in this, supplemented by the next 24 mountain bikers on the UCI Ranking. Van der Poel cannot participate in this during the first World Cups, because he no longer has UCI points in 2023 and therefore does not meet the criteria.
The result of the Short Track race determines the starting order of the cross country the following Sunday. The top 24 in the Short Track results will start based on their result from the first, second or third row of the grid. In the fourth row (places 25 to 32) the first eight riders in the UCI Ranking will start, who did not finish in the first 24 of the Short Track. New this year is a rule for the fifth row of the grid. In places 33 to forty riders may start who are in the top 10 of the individual UCI Ranking in another discipline.
In practice, for Van der Poel, these are the road ranking (he is now eighth on that) and the cyclocross ranking. The four-time world champion of Alpecin-Fenix is now 89th, because he only rode two crosses last winter. Since this is also a rolling ranking, will MVDP rise faster than others on this ranking. After all, his competitors have to ride at least the same result in the cross from a year earlier, in order not to lose points in the ranking. Because Van der Poel only drove two, he will quickly catch up on points.