Mathieu van der Poel could complete an historic treble on Saturday when he attempts to add the mountain bike world title to his current road race and cyclo-cross crowns.
Winner of February’s world cyclo- cross championships, the 28-year-old Dutchman added the road race world title to his trophies this week.
Van der Poel would become the first rider to hold all three titles at the same time, and while his preparation has been limited he has a record of delivering on the big day.
Emerging from the mists of the final laps of Glasgow’s ultra-long road race on Sunday, Van der Poel unleashed an awe-inspiring acceleration.
It allowed him to break away for the title ahead of arch-rival Wout van Aert and two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar.
Van der Poel conceded, however, his bid on Saturday was a long shot.
“I’ll be honest and tell you without any preparation it’ll be difficult,” he said.
“I haven’t climbed on a mountain bike for around a year. And I know how tricky it can be changing disciplines.”
He had been favourite for the mountain bike gold at the 2000 Tokyo Games before a peculiar fall.
In training, organisers had placed a ramp over a log, removing it on the big day, with Van der Poel paying a heavy price.
Modestly, he explained he would like a top 10 and a few qualifying points for the 2024 Paris Games, “but you never know”.
Agile and powerful at the same time, Van der Poel is a five-time world cyclo-cross champion and excels across flat terrain.
When he won the road race, his rivals could only admire his ability.
“There’s no arguing, he was the strongest,” congratulated his eternal rival Van Aert, second in the road race and who will aim for gold in the time trial on Friday.
“He was incredible, completely crazy,” said Pogacar.
“He’s a beautiful world champion, he deserves it,” said dethroned world champion Remco Evenepoel.
Van der Poel has one of the finest records in cycling.
While his size prevents him from targeting the Grand Tours, he has won a string of the great one-day races including two Tour of Flanders, a Paris-Roubaix, a Milan-Sanremo and stages on the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia.
A third world crown in the same year would further elevate his status ahead of next year’s Olympics, where he could line up in mountain biking and on the road.
“I saw the course, I like it,” said Van der Poel of the Paris Games.
On the mud paths of Glentress at these ‘super worlds’, where 13 events are ongoing simultaneously for the first time, Van der Poel faces a familiar foe on Saturday.
British rider Tom Pidcock avoided the road race action to focus on taking part in the mountain bike finale.
Pidcock won the bronze medal in the mountain bike short track Thursday saying he had used it for a run out.
“I only did this to prepare for Saturday but this morning I was pretty up for it and it’s nice to have a medal,” he said.