As his long-time rival, Wout van Aert, took a dominant victory on stage four on Tuesday all Mathieu van der Poel could do was watch as the Belgian rode away from the peloton.
Despite a strong time trial in Copenhagen, which saw the Dutchman place fifth, he has been conspicuous in his absence from the action in the subsequent stages of this Tour de France. The reason, revealed Van der Poel in an interview with Dutch TV broadcast, NOS, is that he simply doesn’t have the legs.
“I haven’t been feeling very well for a few days, actually,” admitted the 27-year-old. “The time trial was also below my level, as I indicated at the time. Yesterday it became painfully clear that I do not have the legs I had hoped for.”
Of his rampaging rival, Van der Poel admitted: “He was better than me on that hill.”
Van der Poel, who finished his first grand tour at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, is hoping he can ride into form as the race develops, “I don’t know what it is either, but I just hope it gets better in the coming days,” he said. “I didn’t really see that coming. I think I had a pretty good preparation. I wasn’t super good, but the week before the Tour I started to ride well again. But it’s not really coming out yet. I can’t change it now either. I’m trying to keep calm, it’s still a long time and I’m still hoping that somehow there will be a turnaround.”
Wednesday’s cobbled stage would usually be the powerful Dutchman’s preferred terrain, however he was doubtful of his chances. “It will have to be a lot better than yesterday to compete for the win,” he said. “I am always someone who races very aggressively, but I have also always said that you have to have the legs for that. I just don’t have that at the moment, that’s frustrating for me too.”