Almost two months after he last raced, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) has made a successful comeback to road racing by taking victory at the Antwerp Port Epic.
“It’s nice to win,” Van der Poel said after the race. “I missed some important goals but I am happy to be back.”
A worsened back injury has plagued Van der Poel since he crashed hard in the first lap of the Olympic XC race at the end of July. He was due to ride the MTB World Championships before defending his Benelux Tour title, but he was ruled out of both by persistent discomfort.
Then, with the Road World Championships and Paris-Roubaix getting ever closer, the team announced that their leader would test his recovery at the Antwerp Port Epic. At the beginning of his two months of no competition, Van der Poel was experiencing almost constant pain in his lower back, but with the help of intense physio he’s now able to train normally. So before Sunday’s race, the team were hopeful that he’d ‘pass the test’.
When the day came, he passed the test with flying colours, attacking with Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) on a gravel section with 25 km to go. The pair rode to the finish together and Van der Poel had enough left to hold off his compatriot in the sprint for the line.
“My back gave problems in the final hour but it didn’t bother me as normal,” Van der Poel said. “I am relieved. I have to wait to see how I react but this race isn’t like Roubaix or Worlds. We’ll decide this week.”
Paris-Roubaix it is not, but a win in his first race back should turn hope into cautious optimism in the lead-up to the last big races of the season.