Today marks the 20th Birthday of Mathieu van der Poel, and although he has only been qualified to race the U23s for his second year, he announced that he will be racing at the Elite level in Tabor.
Right before the Dutch National Championship, Van der Poel convinced the media that he was preparing to head into the U23 race for the second time after his third place finish at Hoogerheide in 2014. Two days after winning the Dutch Elite National Jersey, he reversed his decision.
Belgian rider Wout van Aert was a little more cautious in his approach, waiting until six days after the Belgian National Championships to formally make his announcement (although he had originally hinted to Sporza that he was going to be racing in the U23 race). By the time he told the world that he, too, wanted to race in the Elite field, many nodded along, believing it to be a foregone conclusion.
One thing to understand, though, is that the decision for a U23 rider to move to the Elite races shouldn’t be made lightly, and both riders understandably didn’t rush into the decision. Considering that the move is irreversible for following championships, and that both of these riders are now 20 years old, their choice to move to the Elites will affect them for the next two championships as well. It must have been a particularly tough decision for Van der Poel, who has not yet donned the rainbow colors as a U23 rider.
So why does their jump to the Elites make so much sense?
It is easier to rationalize Van Aert’s decision. Although he had never worn the Junior World Championship Jersey (Van der Poel beat him in 2012 in a rivalry that now extends over three age groups, including a battle at the 2014 World Cup at Koksijde), he did win the U23 Jersey last year with Van der Poel taking third. While there is something to be said for defending a title, there is also something to be said for “Been there, done that.”
But this is not just a case where a collegiate-level athlete is trying on pro-level clothes. If you have been paying any attention this season, you would know Van Aert is already wearing the pro clothes.
Hell, at this point, he’s practically the tailor of pro-level clothing.