Last Sunday at the World Championships, cyclocross superstar Mathieu van der Poel capped another amazing one-loss season with a wire-to-wire victory and another rainbow jersey. While van der Poel’s recent exploits have been well-documented, many cyclocross fans aren’t familiar with his undefeated season as a young junior (novice), his bold prediction as a five-year-old, and the accomplishments of his father and maternal grandfather.
Belgian Mathias Dewaelsche put together this comprehensive look into the living legend known as The Flying Dutchman, and even the biggest cyclocross fan will likely learn something about the three-time Elite world champ. Enjoy.
Once again, a cyclocross season was dominated by one man: Mathieu van der Poel. Winning the World Championships last Sunday was just the coronation of a nearly-perfect season and year.
This year, however, the Worlds was his last cyclocross race of the season as he will start preparing for the Spring Classics on the road. After road races as Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, van der Poel’s focus will switch to mountain biking as he hopes to win the gold medal in the cross-country event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Combining three disciplines, and all three successful, the Dutch wonder boy doesn’t seem to struggle with it. Where did he get such incredible talent? And how has his talent developed throughout the years? For an answer on those two questions, we will guide you through van der Poel’s family history and already incredible palmarès.
Maternal and Paternal “Cycling Genes”
In the autumn of 1987, Dutch cyclist Adrie van der Poel celebrated the end of the road season on the French Isle of Martinique. It was there that in a disco, he ran into Corinne Poulidor, daughter of French cycling legend Raymond Poulidor. The two got married and on January 19th, 1995 they were blessed with a second child, his name: Mathieu.
Grandfather Raymond Poulidor was born on April 15th, 1936 and recently passed away, on November 19th, 2019. Poulidor, Poupou, was often called “The Eternal Second”, as he was on the podium of the Tour de France eight times (3 × 2nd, 5 × 3rd), but never won. Despite his nickname, Poulidor did win major road races, as Milano-San Remo in 1961, La Fleche Wallonne in 1963 and the Tour of Spain in 1964.
Father Adrie van der Poel successfully combined road racing and cyclocross. On the road, he won the Tour of Flanders in 1986, Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1988 and the Amstel Gold Race in 1990. After finishing 2nd on the World Championships Cyclocross five times (1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991), it looked like van der Poel was on his way to becoming “The Eternal Second” in cyclocross.
In the final years of his career, van der Poel focused more on cyclocross racing, which finally delivered him the World Title in 1996 in the French city of Montreuil [watch it here]. On February 20th, 2000 Adrie van der Poel put on his racing outfit for the last time for a cyclocross race in the city he was born, Hoogerheide (The Netherlands). On that day Mathieu van der Poel, five years of age, already announced he would become a professional cyclist. [See the 1 minute, 7-second mark in the video below]
An Incredible Palmarès in Three Disciplines
On October 25th, 2003, van der Poel showed his talent for the first time by winning the Rabobank DikkeBanden Race 2003.
Van der Poel entered the novice (young Junior) ranks in the 2009-2010 cyclocross season, in which he won several races and finished 2nd on the Dutch National Championships. In the following 2010-2011 cyclocross season, van der Poel didn’t have a rival as he won 29 out of 29 races he contested in, the Dutch National Championships being one of them.
In the summer of 2011, van der Poel went racing on the road and won the Dutch Novice Time Trial Championships.
In the 2011-2012 cyclocross season, van der Poel moved to the Junior ranks, where he won most of the races he contested in, the National and European Championships being two of them. On the World Championships in the Belgian city of Koksijde van der Poel faced some stomach problems, but became World Champion for the very first time. The silver medal that day was awarded to eternal rival Wout van Aert. That season van der Poel also won the UCI World Cup and the Superprestige classification.
After 16 victories and his first general classification victory in the 2012 road season, van der Poel was also selected for the World Championships on the road. In the bunch sprint, that delivered Matej Mohorič the World Title, van der Poel finished in 9th.
A year older, van der Poel again didn’t allow any rivalry in the 2012-2013 cyclocross season, as he contested in 30 races and won every single one of them. Just as the year before he crowned himself Dutch National Champion and European Champion and won the UCI World Cup and Superprestige classification. Van der Poel also became the first cyclist to successfully defend his Junior World Title by winning the U19 race on the first cyclocross World Championships organized in the USA in Louisville, Kentucky.
During the 2013 road season, van der Poel won several stages in multiple stage races, two of which he won the race overall. Van der Poel also crowned himself Dutch National Champion and traveled to Florence, Italy as the main favorite for the World Title. Going towards the last climb of the Fiesole French rider Franck Bonnamour had broken away. On the climb van der Poel left everyone behind, he bridged the gap with Bonnamour and dropped the French rider a little later as well to become World Champion on the road for the first time.
In the 2013-2014 cyclocross season van der Poel advanced to the U23 ranks, but already participated in several Elite races. Despite his young age, van der Poel won the UCI Under-23 World Cup, the Under-23 Superprestige and the National Under-23 Championships. On the European Championships van der Poel was in the lead for quite some time, but in the end, it was Belgian rider Michael Vanthourenhout who took the gold. On the World Championships in Hoogerheide, van der Poel had an off-day, as he couldn’t respond to the attacks of Wout van Aert and Michael Vanthourenhout. Van Aert took the World Title that day, Vanhourenhout took silver. In the end, van der Poel found his second wind and secured the bronze medal.
Despite being disappointed after the missed U23 World Title in the hometown of his father, van der Poel kept his head up and took his first Elite win on February 16th in the Boels Classic Internationale Cyclo-cross.
The following road season van der Poel didn’t have to wait long for a first Elite win on the road either as he won the Tour of Limburg on June 15th, 2014.
The 2014-2015 cyclocross season started off well with an Elite win in the Superprestige race in Gieten. Van der Poel took a second victory in the Scheldecross in Antwerp and on the Dutch National Championships he immediately took his first Elite Title. Older brother David van der Poel took silver. After this result, van der Poel decided to contest the World Championships with the Elite. At the age of 20 years and 13 days, van der Poel became the youngest World Champion in the history of cyclocross. He ended the 2014-2015 season by winning the overall Superprestige classification with a one-point advantage on Kevin Pauwels.
In the 2015 road season, van der Poel impressed Belgian cycling fanatics by finishing 6th in the overall classification of the Tour of Belgium. His road season, however, didn’t end well as he crashed in the Tour de l’Avenir and injured his knee.
Because of the knee injury, van der Poel missed the first part of the 2015-2016 cyclocross season. Van der Poel made his comeback in the Duinencross in Koksijde, where cyclocross legend Sven Nys took his 50th and last World Cup victory of his career. Van der Poel finished third that day.
At the National Championships, he successfully defended his National Title and presented himself as the main favorite for the World Championships in Belgium. After he got his foot stuck in the front wheel of Wout van Aert, van der Poel didn’t recover to defend his title. Van Aert, on the other hand, showed he was mentally strong that day and took his first Elite World Title.
After a disappointing result at the Cyclocross World Championships, van der Poel announced he wanted to qualify for the cross-country mountain bike event at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio. Because of this ambition, van der Poel didn’t focus on a lot of road racing in 2016. He took several victories on his mountain bike but didn’t manage to qualify for the Olympic Games.
In the summer of 2016, van der Poel underwent surgery on his knees again and missed the first part of the cyclocross season again. He made a comeback in the Superprestige race in Gieten and immediately won after a mechanical for Wout van Aert in the final meters of the race. After he took his third Nationals title in a row, van der Poel once again was the main favorite for the World Championships in Luxemburg. As the best man in the race, it was four flat tires that kept him from his second World Title. Eternal rival Wout van Aert only had one flat tire and became World Champion for the second time. After a disappointing silver medal on the World Championships, van der Poel still managed to win the overall Superprestige classification.
During the following summer, van der Poel successfully combined road racing and mountain biking, as he triumphed on the road in the second stage of the Tour of Belgium and in Dwars door het Hageland and won two stages and the overall classification of the Belgian MTB Challenge.
The cyclocross season of 2017-2018 was his first complete cyclocross season. He won 32 out of 39 races and the overall classification in the Superprestige, the DVV Verzekeringen Trofee and the UCI Elite World Cup. On the cyclocross course in the Czech city of Tabor, where he became the youngest Elite World Champion, he became European Champion for the first time as well. He also became Dutch National Champion for the fourth time in a row, but only took bronze on the World Championships, which for the third time in a row were won by Wout van Aert.
In 2018 van der Poel surprisingly took the National Road Title in Hoogerheide, the hometown of father Adrie, and finished 2nd on the European Road Championships in Glasgow.
That year van der Poel also became National Champion Cross-Country and with that, the first Dutch rider to take three national titles in the same year. He also became known on the international mountain bike stage by winning the World Cup short-track races in Albstadt and Val di Sole and by taking a bronze medal on the World Championships Cross-Country in the Swiss town of Lenzerheide.
In the 2018-2019 cyclocross season, van der Poel became European Champion for the second time, Dutch National Champion for the fifth time and finally took his second World Title. He also won the overall classification in the Superprestige and the DVV Verzekeringen Trofee.
After his dominance in the cyclocross season, van der Poel participated in some spring classics for the first time. After winning semi-classics as Dwars door Vlaanderen and De Brabantse Pijl, van der Poel took an astonishing victory in the 2019 Amstel Gold Race, by many experts seen as the most impressive win of the 2019 road season.
After a very successful mountain bike season as well, in which he won three World Cup cross-country races and took gold at the European Championships, van der Poel also wanted to participate in his first Elite Road World Championships.
After successful preparation, with three stage wins and the overall victory in the Tour of Britain, van der Poel seemed ready to take the Word Title. He managed to be part of the decisive breakaway, but, after a day out in the rain and not taking in enough food, he ran out of fuel in the final lap. Still wanting to finish the Worlds, van der Poel kept going and finished in 43rd.
After a deserved period of rest, van der Poel entered the cyclocross fields again in the Superprestige race in Ruddervoorde. Since then he only lost one race and successfully defended his European and National Title.
Last weekend, van der Poel was dominant in Sunday’s World Championships. Some might lament the lack of suspense, while other racers might lament his impact on the 80% rule, but let us all appreciate a once-in-a-generation talent who has given the world of cycling a lot of joyful moments already.
Thank you, Mathieu!