Mathieu van der Poel is only 22-years-old but the Dutch cyclocross champion has already won an elite world championship title (2015) in the sport. Canadian Cycling Magazine caught up with the multidisciplinary Dutch cycling star at round 2 of the cyclocross World Cup in Waterloo, Wisconsin.

Van der Poel is a rising star in the sport. He does not only find success in the mud of Belgium, he swept the two opening rounds of the 2017-2018 cyclocross World Cup in Iowa City and Waterloo on American soil. If not for injuries, his ‘cross palmares would likely be even deeper. He also won on the road this year at Dwars door het Hageland, the Baloise Belgium Tour, and he won multiple stages and the overall at Boucles de la Mayenne. This year he even came second in a round of the mountain bike World Cup in Albstadt where he was only bested by Nino Schurter who went on to have a perfect season.

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Racing in front of an North American crowd is different. With more cyclocross participants on the sidelines rather than like in Europe where crowds of spectators attend in a much more professional environment. “I think the biggest difference is the number of spectators out there. In Belgium it’s a really big sport and there are a lot of spectators. There are a lot of participants here but spectators were not as big numbers,” he explained after winning in Waterloo.

Van der Poel did however appreciate the enthusiasm of the spectators. “The crowd here is cheering for everyone. They don’t have a favourite rider. That’s something you always have racing in Europe,” he said. “The people who come to watch the race has a favourite and sometimes they boo at some other riders. They experience it in another way.”

While the expansion of cyclocross World Cup calendar into North American has been celebrated, Van der Poel hopes to see it strength it’s position in different parts of Europe.

“It’s not up to me to choose,” he said when asked where he’d like to see a cyclocross race. “But Switzerland would be a good place to start. Very popular there in the past and I think the EKZ Cross Tour is doing a really great job to get back on the map and maybe. It’s not bad for cyclocross to be here [North America] but maybe it could be organized a little bit more.”

Before breaking onto the elite cyclocross scene, Van der Poel won the 2013 junior road world championship title in Florence. His ambition in the coming years is to focus on mountain biking in a bid to make it to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“If you choose you loose,” Van der Poel said about selecting a discipline to focus on. “I think I found a new challenge in mountain biking and I am excited which level I can reach if I go 100 per cent for it. I think that’s my goal next year, to try and win a world cup there.”

While cyclocross is not an Olympic sport, it’s Van der Poel’s best bet to make it to the Olympics. “I think to me it’s the best opportunity to be an Olympian but it’s a very tough sport. I think, as you can see, it helped me to gain some muscles and to become stronger than I was. I love the sport and it’s even more technical than cyclocross, it’s a different technique but it’s something I really enjoy doing.”

When jokingly asked whether he would race winter ‘cross on fat bikes if that makes it to the Olympics before cyclocross, Van der Poel answered that though he has a fat bike at home he has never raced it. Instead he hopes to one day see cyclocross in the Olympics.

With files from Andre Cheuk


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