Mathieu Van der Poel has said that there's a possibility he may leave the Tour de France early to focus on the Olympics this year.
Van der Poel's Alpecin Fenix team has been granted entry to the Tour de France for the first time in 2021 and, as their star rider, it has been part of the Dutch rider's packed schedule all year. It was previously believed he would race the entirety of the Tour before attempting a quick turnaround of just 12 days to recover, travel and acclimatize in Tokyo however, in a Zoom press conference ahead of the Nove Mesto World Cup this weekend, Van der Poel now says he may leave the Tour early to focus on his Olympic ambitions.
While skipping the tour entirely is not an option, the punchier hills of the first week of the route will favour Van der Poel's style better than the higher mountains that come later in the race's schedule. Van der Poel is one of the favourites to take the leader's Yellow Jersey in the first week but would be unlikely to carry it through until the final stage on the Champs Elysees in Paris as he would struggle against the climbing and time trial specialists. Because of this, it's feasible he could gather a lot of valuable publicity for his team early in the race and then leave later on to ensure he gets sufficient rest before the Olympics.Wielerflits reports
that Van der Poel said, "During the Tour I will keep the Games in mind. I don't know yet if, and when, I will leave the Tour. I will determine that together with the team in the course of the match. I would have preferred to do the Olympics last year and the Tour this year but it's not something I can choose this year, so we have to deal with it and try to be as best prepared as we can.”
Van der Poel is already one of the strong favourites for the Olympic mountain bike race but question marks remained over his ability to race at the Tour and the Games in such a short amount of time. Leaving the Tour early would give him more recovery time and probably narrow his odds on winning gold.
Van der Poel also explained in the press conference the difficulties in switching between the two disciplines in a short period of time. He said, “It’s always been a bit of an adaptation for me to switch to the mountain bike because of the different position, the steep climbs, you really have to push from the back as well, and I've had it for the past few years. I also need a couple of hard training sessions or races to get used to the position again.”
Whatever happens with Van der Poel's Olympic and Tour ambitions this year, we can expect to see him in mountain biking for a while longer as he has confirmed he will continue on fat tires until at least the 2024 Olympics in Paris.