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januari 05, 2024


Is Mathieu van der Poel’s Dominance Making Cyclocross a Snooze-Fest?

Mathieu van der Poel, who can stop him this cyclocross season?

So far, nobody.

And it looks like that might not change until he lines up in Tábor to run, bunny-hop, and stair-climb his way toward a possible sixth elite CX world title next month.

Also read: How did MVDP get so good this CX season?

The Dutch ace has delivered eight wins from eight so far this winter in what has to be one of his best CX campaigns yet.

He’s blown the specialists away at the start grid and left archrival Wout van Aert a quarter-lap behind more times than once.

So is the 28-year-old taking the stoke out of the sport?

Or is watching Van der Poel like watching some very muddy poetry in motion?

Velo’s Andrew Hood and Jim Cotton argue either way:

Jim Cotton: Mathieu is a magician, let him work his muddy spell

Mathieu van der Poel
MVDP is so fast he doesn’t even get muddy. (Photo: IRIS VAN DEN BROEK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Don’t get complacent watching one of the best ‘crossers in decades – embrace it.

Mathieu van der Poel is a magician of the mud, a supremo in the sand, and a rocket ship across all other surfaces. He’s a one-of-a-kind talent that right now is as red hot as he might ever be.

Van der Poel is as impressive this winter as he was when he was turning Amstel Gold Race upside down in 2019, obliterating Strade Bianche with megawatt attacks in 2021, or winning road worlds with a busted shoe last summer.

Fans of the sport should revel in the Dutchman’s power, poise, and all-round athletic ability while the going’s good. While some of his mid-race antics may raise eyebrows, his mastery of a ‘cross bike raises hairs on the back of the neck.


Sure, MVDP’s untouchable prowess is turning this cyclocross season into a race for second-place, but that’s not his fault.

The 28-year-old loves the filthy winter – if not some of its filthy fans – and wants to make hay when the sun doesn’t shine. He’s at the prime of his athletic life and wants to win it all while the going’s good.

While Van Aert and Pidcock are playing it safe by supressing their CX ambitions and tuning down their form in favor of possibly more sponsor-savvy ambitions in the spring classics, MVDP is going full “YOLO” while he’s at the peak of his powers.

‘Cross worlds, cobbled monuments, Tour de France, Olympics, road worlds? Van der Poel will have them all, thank you very much.

Plus, spare a thought for Eli Iserbyt, Pim Ronhaar, Boris Nieuwenhuis, and the rest of the specialist squad.

These guys go deep for second place every weekend and have provided some of the best bike racing in a season where a silver medal is good as gold.

Will Van der Poel continue to crush the entire ‘cross season?

He’s got five more races before worlds, and two of those also feature Van Aert. The Belgian looks like he’s finding his groove in the mud, and all it would take would be for WVA to upturn Mathieu’s day a couple times to change the complexion of the entire cyclocross season.

Whether Van Aert finds a way to unpick Van der Poel or not, we should enjoy Mathieu the CX maestro when we can.

We might not ever see him so good again.

Andrew Hood: Playing the long game deflates the here and now

Wout van Aert
Van Aert is playing the long game in 2024, and all but forfeiting cyclocross this winter. (Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Hats off to MVDP and his imperious rule.

Road racing might be a team sport, but cyclocross is old-school rider-vs-rival-vs-mud blood sport that quickly exposes a racer’s net worth.

And there’s no doubting Van der Poel is on a tear. The women’s scene is also playing out in a similar monopoly, with Fem Van Empel on a one-woman rampage across the mud and muck of the Low Countries.

What’s not to celebrate this exceptional dominance?

Oh, how I yearn for the days of yesteryear, say 12 months ago, when the “Big 3” were bashing each other week-in, week-out.

Wout van Aert took some lessons out of last year’s hard-fought campaign, and that’s bad news for CX fans.

Growing weary of near misses in the spring classics, Big Wout is rejigging his approach to monument season. The casualty of his recalibration is the thick ‘cross action we’ve grown accustomed to, almost spoiled by, during the past few CX seasons.

The same goes for Tom Pidcock, whose more agile style of racing is better suited to mountain biking than ‘cross, and all but admits he needs at least some hills to stand any chance against the pure watt-monsters.

Like Van Aert, Pidcock is looking further down the road, and is using cyclocross to build form (and perhaps cash a few checks, too).

Taking nothing away from the other dedicated crossers, the Van Aert-Van der Poel-Pidcock rivalry enthused new energy into men’s cyclocross.

And not to say it’s over, but Van Aert and Pidcock on slow simmers are nowhere close to Van der Poel, who’s clearly on a full boil right now.

Van Aert is desperately chasing a monument win at Flanders or Roubaix, not now. Pidcock is under equal pressure to deliver at the Tour de France and pop again in XC in Paris.

Van der Poel is in the here and now. Zeroing in on a sixth world cyclocross crown, he wants to equal and perhaps better the all-time mark of seven titles held by Erik De Vlaeminck.

Different priorities see the “Big 3” on different levels. Too bad it’s not all at the same time. Playing the long game is a short-term loss for CX fans.

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