Is Mathieu van der Poel the world’s most versatile male bike rider right now? With less than five months of the year gone, the 24-year-old has regained the UCI Cyclo-cross world championship, triumphed in three big races on the road – including a sensational victory at Amstel Gold – and now, this weekend, he’s won a round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
Second at Alsbadt in Germany last weekend, he won in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic yesterday. You can watch the highlights of the race above.
It’s been an outstanding start to the year for the Dutch national road champion, who rides for the UCI Professional Continental team, Corendon Circus.
Cycling, of course, runs through his veins; his father, Adri, won two Monuments – the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – as well as the rainbow jersey in cyclo-cross, plus two stages of the Tour de France.
His his maternal grandfather, meanwhile, is Raymond Poulidor, six times a podium finisher at the Tour – his great misfortune being belonging to the same generation as Jacques Anquetil, then Eddy Merckx – although Pou-Pou did win Milan-San Remo and the Vuelta during his career.
As for Mathieu the third generation of a cycling dynasty sans pareil? The move to a UCI WorldTour team will doubtless come, possibly as a “trainee” – use of inverted commas is deliberate – this August.
But right now, it’s the fact he rides at the level below that gives him the opportunity to ride ‘cross and MTB, as well as enjoying a stonking Classics season in which he also finished fourth in the Tour of Flanders.
Once he inevitably steps up to the top-flight, he’s unlikely to have the freedom to pursue different disciplines to the road, as we’ve seen with previous world cyclo-cross champions such as Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Zdenek Stybar; once you’re riding for a road team with a big budget, they want bang for their buck, and you have to focus on providing that.
Of course, when we asked at the top of the article whether van der Poel is the world’s most versatile rider right now, we should have perhaps qualified that by saying on the men’s side of the sport.
A number women, of course, have won across different disciplines in recent years – France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who has won the rainbow jersey on the road, in mountain biking and at cyclo-cross being one – with the limited calendar, and perhaps less pressure from sponsors, giving more leeway to diversify.
For the standout multi-disciplinary rider, male or female, in the past decade and a half of course, you only have to look at van der Poel’s compatriot Marianne de Vos, still only 32.
An Olympic champion on the track in Beijing in 2008 and on the road in London four years later, she is also a seven-time cyclo-cross world champion and has won three rainbow jerseys on the road and two in the velodrome.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.