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Van der Poel: Rivalry with Van Aert 'bigger than the sport'

Mathieu van der Poel says duel with Wout van Aert has become a 'story of its own' after Cyclocross World Championships win. Photos: SWPix

Will Strickson
1 Feb 2021

Mathieu van der Poel says his rivalry with Wout van Aert is 'getting bigger than the sport itself' as he discussed the 2021 Cyclocross World Championships, where the Dutchman rode to victory on the beach at Oostende.

Speaking about his victory, which saw his Belgian rival's challenge hampered by a flat tyre, Van der Poel said: 'We've had some pretty good battles in the past and it starts to become a story of its own.

'You see that it's also getting bigger than the sport itself the duel between us two, so I think it's pretty cool to have someone like him. It also benefits me.'

When pushed on whether their competition is crucial for his motivation to continue cyclocross alongside an increasingly busy road schedule, the Dutchman admitted, 'Maybe a little bit.'

He explained that he thinks 'the main point is I have to be at 110% to beat Wout van Aert in cyclocross and that motivates me a lot.

'It's not that the other guys are not riding fast, not at all, but we see that if we come to our best level in cyclocross the two of us are just strongest.'

Since 2015 no other rider has won the title, with Van der Poel taking four wins and Van Aert the other three, a domination that almost seems unfair on the rest of the field. The rivalry has begun to take over the road too with last year's Tour of Flanders ending with a thrilling sprint between the pair.

However Van der Poel – son of former Cyclocross World Champion and road Classics specialist Adri van der Poel and grandson of the great Raymond Poulidor – doesn't plan on ditching 'cross anytime soon.

'I will keep coming back as long as possible because it's fun for me and it breaks the long winter a little bit when road riders are just training hours and hours.'

He admitted though that the discipline is 'getting less and less important' as he sets his sights on winning more road races as well as targeting mountain bike gold at the Olympics (which he considered sitting out his maiden Tour de France for). 

'I don't think I have anything left to prove in cyclocross except for winning the Worlds,' said Van der Poel, who is still only 26 years old. While it's not an Olympic sport, the only target left to chase is Eric De Vlaeminck's record of seven World Championships.

'Maybe it's possible. I can already be proud of my four World titles but for sure I will do more in the upcoming years and I hope to be at my top level again until I'm at least 30 years old.'

Gallery: Highlights from all four races at the Cyclocross World Championships

Photos: SWPix