Van Aert, ahead of Van der Poel in a race in Belgium last December.Luc Claessen (Getty Images)
Three weeks ago, Mathieu van der Poel (Kapellen, Belgium; 28 years old) crossed the finish line first but neither smiled nor raised his arms.
He opted for sobriety and courtesy, not to celebrate the victory after the X2O cyclocross race -third division of the discipline- in Herentals, at the home of his archrival Wout van Aert (Belgian with Dutch nationality; 28 years old), who in the last lap he denied his misfortune when he suffered a puncture.
"I would have preferred to win without setbacks in between," resolved Van der Poel.
A declaration of respect, not of friendship, between two riders who forged their rivalry in the mud and who have revolutionized cycling, who have been competing since they were cadets -the accounts say that there are already more than 250 races- and who feed each other to raise the ribbon, magnets for fans and sponsors,
The UCI team managers understand that cyclocross is an addition to finding a better version of the cyclist, as it gives you skill and dexterity, handling the bike in large packs and technical solutions for compromising situations in the race such as a devilish curve or a bad roundabout. put.
None like Van der Poel (Alpecin and four Cyclocross World Championships in his pocket) or Van Aert (Jumbo and three others), who in 2019 already settled on the road, unable to turn off the engine -because there is no rest in his calendar as in the rest of the riders-, with laurels in the classics, massive
and stages in the grand tours.
“They are two talents.
You put them to pedal anywhere, even on a
bike , and they blow it up.
They were born to pedal”, says Juanma Gárate (Education First).
“We are talking about two wonders of nature.
In any aerobic sport they would be good.
Not only do they win in all disciplines, but they do it in any way”, adds Jorge Azanza (Euskaltel).
“They were born to be artists and phenomena of this sport, whatever the bike.
They are profiles that are a little marked by that demanding effort that is cyclocross and that makes them super aggressive guys and to that is added the
In addition, they are not afraid of failing in those almost crazy things that we think they do”, highlights Eusebio Unzue (Movistar).
“It is that they are good for everything and do not give up anything.
They are a show with a winning mentality”, adds Joxean Matxín (UAE).
“They have one-hour efforts, which requires power… But the cause is not cyclocross.
It is the talent, the mentality and that they have improved a lot by competing against each other”, says Juanjo Oroz (Kern Pharma).
"This year, I spoke to Mathieu for the first time for more than five minutes," Van Aert revealed in 2020.
Van der Poel took the baton: “Our rivalry transcends sport and that's great.
We make each other stronger and make sure we push each other's limits.
It's a great story.
I think there should be a healthy hatred between us."
It is one more chapter of geniuses facing each other on the bike as expressed in their day by the dapper Coppi and the self-sacrificing Bartali;
the stylist Anquetil and the second Poulidor -he is Van der Poel's grandfather-;
the Cannibal Merckx and the unfortunate Ocaña;
and the overwhelming (and cheater) Armstrong and the intimidated (also cheater) Ullrich.
From Van der Poel I prefer his spontaneity.
Many times he does things knowing that he is blowing himself up, that they are kamikaze leaks.
He is not afraid and that takes directors and rivals out of their comfort zone.
And I would highlight Van Aert's ability to adapt to the mountains.
he is very close to the best, he wins classics and in the Tour he was able to take Vingegaard to let go of Pogacar ”, extols Gárate.
“It is that if Van der Poel has a good day, he does everything… Buah!
He is fast and very difficult to beat him.
And Van Aert does everything, he is a global runner, ”says Oroz.
“Everybody likes to see them run.
They are so complete… Van Aert proved to be enormous last year in high mountains, in the time trial, in the
massive… It is the closest thing to what Jalabert was and surpasses him.
And that in recent years Van der Poel seemed like one more point, but now it is the other way around.
He makes the need to be bigger than the other strong for them, ”Matxín agrees.
“Yes, he goes by seasons, streaks.
Before Van der Poel won and now Van Aert… They feed each other because they don't know how to play anything other than winning”, adds Azanza.
"Van der Poel perhaps has a point of determination when it comes to defining and Van Aert is more constant throughout the year, as well as in certain mountain stages", summarizes Unzue.
The best claim.
"That these animals come is not a relief or an accolade, but rather a blessing", resolved the Spanish coach Pascual Momparler and organizer of the Benidorm event.
That is why the posters of the event were with their faces and that in the training day the
of the fans shot each time they rolled in front of him.
“It is a spectacle to see them because they do things that were not seen before;
they start from the start, they climb very well, they are always with the best… They are marking this era and changing cycling”, Oroz praises them.
“They are transferring cyclocross to the road because they attack with an hour ahead.
These attacks attract the public, brands and people”, remarks Matxín.
“There is no doubt that they hook.
Having these talents is very good for cycling.
The audiences explain that they help us to go through these golden years of cycling”, emphasizes Gárate.
“His arrival has given this sport spectacularity and we have to thank him for that”, confirms Unzue.
“The two of them along with three others from the peloton are the ones who lift the fan out of the armchair and that is what gets them hooked on a sport.
The children look at them”, Azanza concludes.
And this Sunday Benidorm will do it and, by the way, the whole world.
Van Aert: "Van der Poel always pushes me to the limit"
Looking like he had just woken up from a nap, Van Aert had a meeting with the Spanish press at the hotel where his team was staying, Jumbo-Visma, in Mutxamel (Alicante), just the day before his debut in a competition in Spain .
“I have trained a lot this Christmas with the races in Belgium, focusing on short efforts.
When the Tour arrives, we will change the type of training”, resolved the cyclist, who added: “This year I want to have opportunities to win classics, especially Paris Roubaix, the world championship and a stage in the Tour.
I have big goals.
I like to play attacking and I don't mind the pressure”.
He knows, in any case, that in cyclocross and on the road he will face Van der Poel.
“It's always hard to beat him because he always pushes me to the limit.
But winning is rewarding whether he is in the race or not.
I like it when I get it in the last metres, it's a great feeling.
And with him it happens sometimes because he has great capabilities as well as Pidcock ”.
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