Wout van Aert's absence "won't make it any easier" Mathieu van der Poel states ahead of Tour of Flanders

Mathieu van der Poel is the only big favourite to arrive at the Tour of Flanders with full health. Whilst Wout van Aert is out of the race, Jasper Stuyven is also injured and Mads Pedersen certainly not arriving with his best legs making for a disaster in the Lidl-Trek camp. However the World Champion does not believe this makes the race easier for him.

“We will never know whether I would also have been involved in the crash, but of course it could have happened," van der Poel said in words collected by Wielerflits. "This is especially unfortunate for the Ronde, but even more so for Wout and Jasper. Then you spend months looking forward to those important two races and a few days before you are sidelined. You really wouldn't wish that on anyone. I have never made it a secret that I prefer to be at the start with all the top riders. With an open mind. You cannot predict in advance whether the absence of Wout and Jasper will affect me."

One thing is certain, Alpecin-Deceuninck will have more responsibility as van der Poel becomes the uncontested man to beat. Both Team Visma | Lease a Bike and Lidl-Trek are less likely to work together with the Dutch team, but simultaneously both teams have less cards to put van der Poel under pressure. But there are different sides to the outcome: "Maybe there will be even more pressure on my shoulders, which won't make it any easier. On the other hand, Visma-Lease a Bike and Lidl-Trek remain two super strong blocks, even without the presence of Van Aert and Stuyven respectively. Jorgensen, Benoot, Pedersen, Milan, you name it."

"For me, the focus remains the same in any case. I'm just going to do my thing. Winning the Tour of Flanders is never easy and Sunday will be no different," he adds; with Tadej Pogacar also absent a second triumph in Flanders becomes very possible. "How am I going to handle it? I can't say much about that in advance. It depends on how the race evolves, what the situation is. Of course I take my responsibility, but as I said, I think Visma-Lease a Bike and Lidl-Trek remain super strong opponents.”

In very strong form, van der Poel will be the main favourite off the back of a masterful performance at the E3 Saxo Classic and a very strong day at Gent - Wevelgem. He has since rested and trained in preparation for the big day in Belgium, he tells: “Monday and Tuesday were all about resting after two tough races. On Wednesday I had a tough training session. Thursday and today I will combine resting and getting some tension in the legs."

"The day before the race I limit myself to an easy coffee ride to be as fresh as possible at the start on Sunday. The weather in Belgium was not too bad and the training volume was not too high this week, so I decided to stay in Belgium.”

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