Van der Poel's transformation: from the mud to the road on the road to Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES

Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, six-time cyclocross world champion, is undergoing a change at the highest level. His latest ambition is to add the Olympic gold medal in road cycling to the rainbow jersey he already wears in the same discipline. It would be the first time that anyone has ever achieved the triple crown.

Mathieu van der Poel shows no signs of slowing down. His discipline and potential are so immense that he is the only rider capable of becoming world champion in two disciplines as antagonistic as cyclocross and road cycling. His transformation is real.

 He is a cyclist who has made the transition to road cycling after a career in cyclo-cross. He wins everything and goes for more.

His announcement that he will be concentrating on the road race at the Paris Olympics in 2024 is nothing more than confirmation that he has his sights set on the ultimate prize. Cyclocross is not an Olympic discipline, but mountain biking is. It is the discipline in which he wanted to compete at the last Olympic Games, and in Paris he seems ready to do so.

Van der Poel at the 2024 Paris-Roubaix, which he was the winner of. GETTY IMAGES
Van der Poel at the 2024 Paris-Roubaix, which he was the winner of. GETTY IMAGES

It is the closest thing to his usual terrain, with its mixture of mud and tarmac. However, he will not be competing on a mountain bike but on a road bike. He already competed in mountain biking at Tokyo 2020. However, he crashed out of the race.

In October 2023, he became world road cycling champion with a stunning performance, and five months later, in February 2024, he won the cyclocross world championship in Tabor, Czech Republic. If he were to win Olympic gold in less than a year, it would be unprecedented.

"It's the most logical choice," said Van der Poel in a statement from his team Alpecin. The team also confirmed that he will race the Tour de France. Over the last five years he has only improved in both disciplines. On the mud, he was already the best alongside Wout Van Aert, the Belgian from Visma with whom he has always had a fascinating rivalry. 

Van der Poel on the roads of Liege this year. GETTY IMAGES
Van der Poel on the roads of Liege this year. GETTY IMAGES

On the road, he has honed his skills to the point where he has been able to achieve great things in one-day races. This year he won the cobblestone classic, Paris-Roubaix, for the second time. He has also won the Tour of Flanders. He has won stages in grand tours and races like the Amstel Gold Race and Milan-San Remo, which are very specific road races.

"This year the combination is too complicated. The first part of the season was quite long, with cyclo-cross at the beginning and then, after a short break, the classic campaign up to Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"If I wanted to concentrate fully on mountain biking and be perfectly prepared, I'd have to start next weekend in Nove Mesto, the Czech mountain bike World Cup stage," said Van der Poel.

The Dutchman decided to race the Tour de France and the Olympic road race "without time pressure" after consulting his team Alpecin. This year he has won everything on the mud in the Cyclocross World Cup. He has overtaken Van Aert, his other eternal rival. Van Aert has also made a huge leap in his transition to road cycling.

In 2021, Van der Poel took part in his first Tour de France, winning the second stage and wearing the yellow jersey for six days. That was the year he really started to change and continue to change and change. Van der Poel became the favourite in every one-day race he entered. The terrain doesn't matter. His power and race management in the peloton allow him to fight for victory in any scenario.

In the Tour de France, he has won difficult, long stages with demanding finishes. His ability to change pace so abruptly makes it impossible for his rivals to contain him. It was logical that in races like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, where the danger of the cobbles requires experienced riders, his bike handling skills, honed in the mud of cyclocross, would make him a candidate. He fulfilled those predictions and triumphed in both races. Twice. 

Van der Poel raises his arms in the Roubaix velodrome this year. GETTY IMAGES
Van der Poel raises his arms in the Roubaix velodrome this year. GETTY IMAGES

However, he has also shown that he can handle fast finishes, where he has won and even helped faster team-mates like Jasper Philipsen to sprint stage victories in the 2023 Tour de France. His spectacular superiority has led him to think about winning other races that don't have this type of terrain. 

For example, Milan-San Remo, a very flat 296 kilometre race, but with a powerful and selective finish, which he didn't fail to conquer. He won that too. All this has already made him a mutant cyclist. He is getting better and better on the road, without ceasing to excel in cyclocross.

Finally, his deep ambition has led him, at the age of 29, to make plans. Now he's going for road and cyclocross, with the Olympics in full physical swing. And even after that, he's not going to give up on what he really set his mind to doing years ago.

At the Los Angeles Games in 2028, he added, he would "maybe go for mountain bike gold". "That's a long way off, but I'll be in a different phase of my career by then," Van der Poel said.