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Pas de Paris dirt for Mathieu van der Poel

Dutch star trades in Olympic XCO ambitions for possibility of a stage win

mathieu van der poel Tokyo Photo by: Sirotti

Well, we all kind of new this news was coming. But now Alpecin-Deceuninck is making it official. Mathieu van der Poel will not race the mountain bike event at the Paris 2024 Olympics. Instead, the Dutch star will focus on the Tour de France and Olympic road race. And that’s it, really. MvdP isn’t scheduled to race anything else until Le Tour rolls out of Florence at the end of June.

Mathieu Van Der Poel leads Tom Pidcock at a World Cup XCO way back in 2021. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool.

Ambitions run up against tight timelines

Is this unexpected? No. Sure, van der Poel has, until now, continued to say he might race mountain bikes in Paris. But practically? Van der Poel has barely raced mountain bikes since his mis-adventure in Tokyo in 2021. He hasn’t raced a World Cup in two year’s now, since before Tokyo.

When he did line up for 2023 XCO world championships in Glasgow, he crashed on the start loop and had to withdraw from the race. To be fair, he also crashed a few days earlier in the road race and won that world championship title. And he has continued to hold open the possibility of an XCO return in Paris even after his win in Paris-Roubaix this spring. But the only other time he started a mountain bike race in 2023 was when he soft-pedalled to 28th place in the Paris XCO test event in September.

Mathieu van der Poel crashes out of world champs on start loop

The challenge was always going to be getting from Tour de France form into XCO race mode in just a few days. The end of Le Tour is just a week away from the Olympic XCO race. Roadies get a full extra week between end of the Tour and start their Olympic event. Van der Poel faced so much criticism the last time he started Le Tour with the clear intention of not finishing that he was clear coming into 2024 that he would not do the same thing again.

“This is the most logical choice to be able to prepare for my goals without time pressure. The combination with MTB was too difficult,” van der Poel says in the team’s announcement. Adding, with a tease, “But who knows, maybe in LA ‘28 I can focus on mountain biking.”

From someone who once said he wouldn’t stop racing mountain bikes even if he won gold in Tokyo, that is almost enough to string us XCO fans along for another four years like a heartbroken ex holding out hope he’ll come back. But really, the chances are we won’t see van der Poel on dirt until a Sagan-style retirement tour once his road career is done. Mud, maybe. He still has a world championship title to defend there. But not dirt.

Mathieu van Der Poel and teammates
Mathie van der Poel didn’t have a grand time at Tour de France in 2023. Photo: Sirotti

Dipping timid toes into Le Tour

So, what is van der Poel giving up the Olympic XCO for? Well, the Olympic road race. The course there clearly suits him. But also another crack at the Tour de France. Last year didn’t go so hot for the Dutchman, who said he felt flat, at best, for much of the grandest of Grand Tours.

This year, he’s tempering expectations. Whether that’s the public’s expectations he wants to keep in chekc or his own, who knows. But the world champion just wants to be useful to the team. And also win a stage.

“My ambition for Le Tour de France? I hope like last year to assist teammate Jasper Philipsen in his hunt for stage wins and a possible green jersey. And the goal is to also win a stage myself this year,” van der Poel says.

For someone who has a nearly-limitless ability to win week-after-week, and who won two Monuments in eight days this spring, a single stage doesn’t sound like much. But who knows. If he wins one, we’ll likely see van der Poel go for two. And if he wins two, who knows. Then we’ll have to wait for someone like Pogacar to shut him down, again.