After Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) marked each other out of contention in Gent-Wevelgem last weekend, Van Aert had some harsh words for his lifelong rival but the Dutch champion was relaxed ahead of the Tour of Flanders, saying the incident was “a closed chapter” and that he’s “not losing sleep over it”.
“It was already a closed chapter for me on Sunday. It’s just racing, I’m not losing sleep over it,” Van der Poel said on Friday.
The Tour of Flanders represents the final showdown of the 2020 road race season for the two young stars and the last chance for Van der Poel to chalk up a major one-day victory in the Classics as the coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix.
Speaking in a video interview with his team, Van der Poel said he learned a few things from his debut in the Tour of Flanders in 2019 – in particular from his dramatic crash ahead of the second trip up the Oude Kwaremont. While trying to move up on the outside of the peloton, he suddenly faced a traffic island and, in trying to bunny-hop the kerb, punctured then crashed over the handlebars.
The lesson has been learned, Van der Poel said.
“I don’t have to be stressed if I’m not in the first 20-30 riders. Last year maybe it was too much stress to want to be in the first ten on the Kwaremont. It’s better to be in position 40 on the Kwaremont than laying on the ground.”
Van der Poel’s other lesson from the 270km course last year was that he enjoys races of that distance and he regretted that this year’s race has been shortened to 243.3km.
After his 2019 crash, Van der Poel mounted a furious chase and made it back into the peloton and, although he missed the winning move made by Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling) on the final ascent of the Kwaremont, he fought his way to fourth place at the finish.
“For me I think it’s a disadvantage [that the race is shorter],” Van der Poel said.
“I like the length of the race, you feel the difference. At the end of the race when everyone is tired and it’s a mental game… I like that part of the race.”
This year, Van der Poel said his perfect scenario is to mimic Alberto Bettiol’s 2019 winning move and go solo to the finish.
“It will be difficult to do so, but we’ll see how it goes.”
The crest of the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont comes with 16.7km to go, with the Paterberg still to climb ahead of the run-in to the finish, but Van der Poel said that attacking there is not too far out.
“If you’re the strongest it’s not too early. We saw Bettiol attacking on the Kwaremont and maintaining the gap to the finish line. It depends on the race situation and the guys coming behind you.”
Although he prefers to go solo, Van der Poel is also confident in his sprint.
“After a race like the Tour of Flanders I’m maybe not one of the fastest, but one of the strongest sprinters so I think I can be confident to go to a sprint.”
Van der Poel’s sprint wasn’t there in Gent-Wevelgem but the Dutch rider said he’s hoping to have better legs on Sunday after a week of recovery. He is hoping to get the better of the favourites – Van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) – but said there are others to watch.
“I see them as my biggest opponents but I noticed in Gent-Wevelgem that there are a lot of riders with some good legs so it’s not only those two I have to watch,” he said.
“It will be a hard and open race – the Kemmelberg (in Gent-Wevelgem) is similar to the climbs we do in the Ronde so I think it will be the same riders.”