EVEN WOUT AND MATHIEU ARE FALLIBLE
We were promised a great rivalry between Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel this year. It was there at times, the two former cyclo-cross world champions battling it out at Tirreno-Adriatico and in the first week of the Tour de France. And yet they didn’t really go head to head in the way that was expected. The pair both finished on the podium of different monuments: Van Aert at Milan-San Remo, which he won in 2020, and Van der Poel at the Tour of Flanders, where he won last year, and also Paris-Roubaix.
However, neither actually managed to win one. Van der Poel was outsprinted in the final metres in both Flanders and Roubaix, and Van Aert was caught out by Jasper Stuyven’s attack in San Remo. All three races had unexpected winners.
On the other hand, both riders’ reputations remain good, with both recording big victories, and yet we have learned something about them, that they can be beaten if the conditions are right. Van Aert seems beatable when he is the favourite in a final group, as at this year’s Worlds or Olympic Road Race. Van der Poel, meanwhile, seems to lose his kick when a race goes above 250km, and he possibly does too much work. For both riders, their strength is their weakness - Van Aert refuses to overwork and therefore gets caught out by attacks; Van der Poel does do the work, and therefore gets outsprinted. But when it does go right, as it did for Van der Poel at Strade Bianche and for both riders at the Tour, they’re still formidable riders.