After a two-week break following Tirreno-Adriatico, Mathieu van der Poel will return to racing at the BinckBank Tour on Tuesday as he ramps up preparation for the rescheduled Classics season.
The Dutchman, who won the penultimate, hilly stage at Tirreno, should be among the favourites for the five-day race held across Belgium and the Netherlands, the latest stop en route to his return to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix debut.
Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) missed the Road World Championships in Imola altogether and picked the BinckBank Tour over heading to Wallonia for La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège before his main target of the cobbled Classics in October.
“Now it fits pretty well into the schedule,” Van der Poel told Het Nieuwsblad ahead of the race start in Blankenberge.
“It was a choice between Walloon Classics and the BinckBank Tour. I think it’s a better preparation for the Flemish Classics. In the end, it’s a multi-day race.”
He added that he doesn’t regret his decision not to race the Worlds, maintaining that the course was too difficult for him to contend for the rainbow stripes, eventually won by Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) after a final-hill attack.
“I think I made a good decision by not going to the World Championships,” he said. “I ‘turned the knob’ pretty quickly. I wouldn’t have come with the best, so it was the right decision. It’s always difficult not to go to the World Championships, but I was able to finish my training as I wanted. Now I think I’m at 100 per cent.”
Once again, Van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix team will focus on winning a stage of the race, something they did twice at Tirreno courtesy of the Dutchman and his teammate, Tim Merlier.
Van der Poel’s own chances of overall victory will depend on the 11km time trial in Vlissingen on stage 2, as well as the hilly stage 4 to Sittard-Geleen and the ‘Flanders-lite’ final stage to Geraardsbergen.
“As a team we’ll aim for a stage win, first of all,” Van der Poel said. “A lot depends on the time trial in Vlissingen. I can compete for the final classification provided I do a good time trial. The weather could play a role, but that time trial will be decisive, so I’m obliged to ride a good chrono.”
The ‘Golden Kilometre’ sprints – a kilometre section with three intermediate sprints, each offering three bonus seconds – will return once again this year and are another factor that could be decisive in determining the winner of the overall standings.
Van der Poel said that what would happen at these sprints will depend on what’s going on in the race at that moment, with Merlier – the subject of high praise from his team leader – another option for Alpecin-Fenix.
“The race situation will play a bit of a role there. Like [Tim Merlier], I also like to participate in the sprints. For me, he’s one of the fastest sprinters in the world. He himself believes that, at least.”