Michel Wuyts: "Van der Poel controls all the mental games, Van Aert counters that with motor strength and anger"

Michel Wuyts analyzes the competition between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Perhaps the rivalry of this generation, both on the road and in cyclocross, the two head to another year as two absolute superstars, but who've had very different 2023 seasons in terms of success.

"I would lose sleep over competition. Van der Poel indicates that his basic condition is better than last season. That he has been able to train more. And that he trained harder and better. A shiver ran through me from atlas to tailbone," Michel Wuyts said in a column for Het Laatste Nieuws. "Last year he won the World Championships on the road and in the field, Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, with a painful back and a weaker base."

It ended up being the best year of van der Poel's career, as his form was on point in the right moments. Now with the rainbow jersey on his shoulders, he heads to another season where he will pursue more glory in cyclocross, the monuments and the Olympic Games. Claiming his form is better than last year, the Alpecin-Deceuninck spends his winters in Spain building the foundation for the upcoming racing block off-road.

"Van der Poel claims to have found a love for volume training there. He has trained three times as many. In the sun, here (in Belgium, ed.) it is ten degrees colder and it rains. He says he has become more of a road racer than a cross rider and gets a kick out of full day outings. Logical judgement: Van der Poel still has room for progression. Could Sarah van Aert (Wout van Aert's wife, ed.) have already considered a move to Spain?"

Van Aert was second to van der Poel in the cyclocross and world championships this year, and was just one small step below in other key races such as Milano-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders and Paris - Roubaix - although the latter he lost out due to a late puncture. Despite having shown great legs all year round, the Belgian couldn't take the victories that he has in the past. Into 2024 there will be some changes however, as he skips the Tour de France and makes his Giro d'Italia debut, en route to a more specific build-up to the Olympics.

"Even Van Aert will not deny that his biggest competitor was far ahead in 2023. Van der Poel's arsenal is larger. He is damn smart, more vicious and finishes races more successfully," Wuyts argues. "Van Aert had no chance on the Kruisberg, nowhere on the Poggio, was put away in Glasgow and fell into the trap in Hoogerheide. Van der Poel controls all the mental games, Van Aert counters that with motor strength and anger."

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