The expectations around Mathieu van der Poel for the road race of the World Championship cycling Sunday in Yorkshire are sky high. National coach Koos Moerenhout emphasizes that the first Dutch world title for men in 34 years is still a fact.
"As a team, we should not go along with the euphoria surrounding Mathieu," says Moerenhout in conversation with NUsport. "It is motivating to be at the start with a top favorite, but it is going to be a tough course and you have to be so realistic that we have nothing yet. Everything has to go well to become a world champion."
Of course the former rider, who is busy with his first World Cup championship, knows that the 24-year-old Van der Poel is one of the most important contenders for the rainbow jersey on Sunday. The 2013 junior world champion made a big impression this season with ten victories in 26 race days.
The highlight was Van der Poel's victory in the Amstel Gold Race in April. The race route of the classic in Limburg is somewhat similar to the race route of the road race in Yorkshire, so Moerenhout contacted his intended leader early in the spring.
"Not to persuade Mathieu to drive the World Cup on the road, but to present the facts to him," said the national coach. "I told him that there is a course in Yorkshire that suits him and that this is not the case every year. And I have given him the confidence that he would be the leader."
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"Van der Poel must always be in mind"
Moerenhout then put together a strong and experienced team around Van der Poel. With Bauke Mollema, Niki Terpstra, Sebastian Langeveld, Mike Teunissen, Dylan van Baarle, Jos van Emden and Pieter Weening, World Cup debutant 'VDP' can count on the support of winners of great classics and Tour stages.
"It is special and logical at the same time that these types of riders want to ride for Mathieu," says Moerenhout, who this year also spoke with Tom Dumoulin, who was absent due to an injury, about a possible supporting role. "The boys also know that Mathieu is outstanding in this area and naturally a finishing touch."
The national coach does not say that the other seven Dutch riders have to sit around Van der Poel for 285 kilometers. "Riders like Bauke and Niki will undoubtedly have ambitions and that is allowed, but Mathieu must always be in mind."
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"You have to be focused all the way"
According to Moerenhout it is especially important that the Dutch team does not have to be on the defensive for a moment on the rolling roads, where it is constantly turning and turning.
"Because then you have to throw riders overboard earlier than you want. It is especially important to be extremely focused all the time. Physically it will be a difficult course, but mentally it may be even more."
The riders will start on Sunday at 10:00 am Dutch time in Leeds on the World Championship road race. There is first a long run of 187.5 kilometers, followed by seven local laps.
The total route is no less than 285 kilometers long and on the way 3,645 meters of altitude must be overcome. The finish is expected around 4.40 pm in Harrogate.
See also: Who are the biggest competitors of World Cup top favorite Van der Poel?