While Julian Alaphilippe won stage two of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Monday in central France, Mathieu van der Poel was a couple of hours further east, still at an altitude camp in the Alps. While his great adversary Wout van Aert will tackle the Tour de Suisse next weekend, Van der Poel will be competing at the much more low-key Dwars het Hageland and the Belgium Tour.
The Dutchman has not raced since he won Paris-Roubaix at the beginning of April, meaning by the time he pins on his race numbers once again in Aarschot on Saturday, it will have been over two months since he did so. It is all part of a new approach to the season for Van der Poel, as he prioritises training over racing. This period at altitude is all leading towards his two biggest goals for the season: the Tour de France and the super-World Championships, in Glasgow.
"I’m in good shape already," he explained on Monday, speaking to the media from his training camp. "I'm looking forward to racing again, but we invest more time in training now and less in racing. I feel quite good and ready to race. I’m looking forward to the next block."
In 2021, ahead of his first Tour - where he won stage two and wore the yellow jersey - Van der Poel spent 23 days racing. Last year, he headed to the Giro d'Italia before heading to the Tour, meaning 31 race days; incidentally, it was a disappointing Tour. This time around, the 28-year-old has raced just 13 times, but that includes first place at Milan-San Remo and Roubaix, and second places at the Tour of Flanders and the E3 Saxo Classic.
"This is the first year I’ve had a really good preparation for it without other things to think about," he said. "In the past maybe we did sometimes a bit too much, [we were] a bit unprepared."
It is all part of a reprioritising of his season, which never really ends, considering the demands on time from three different disciplines: road, mountain-biking, and cyclo-cross. There is no time for the Dauphiné or Suisse in this calendar.
"I think my preparation now is not comparable with the Giro [last year]," he explained. "For sure now, I really did the perfect preparation. It doesn’t not make sense to throw too much with your energy during the Tour, but I also won’t hold back too much.
"If it turns out to be successful, it’s nice. I’m really eager to go racing again, so that’s good for me. But it can be bad because if you crash you have a long preparation for nothing. I’ve raced a lot in my life already, so when I do it I make sure it counts."
Van der Poel will be hoping there are no incidents to block him from taking advantage of this good form. The first week of the Tour looks suited to him, with punchy stages in the Basque Country the ideal place for the puncheur to grab the yellow jersey for a second time. However, as he says, it will be far from easy.
"I’ve had a really good preparation so far, without anything that bothers me," he said. "A good week of training in Spain, and now good training in France. The Grand Depart… I think it will be difficult. It’s really hard, from the start. I really have to be in top shape, but if some good climbers have their minds set on the yellow jersey, I think it will be difficult for classics riders to go, but we will give it a try."
It is not just the Tour which the Dutchman is focusing on, but the World Championships as well. The road race looks suited to a Classics rider like him, of which he is one of the elite, but he will also target the MTB cross-country race, which takes place a week later. It's a discipline he has been European champion in, and finished third in the world in 2018, but he has not raced since crashing out of the Olympic event in 2021.
"We talked about it, and normally I will also do the worlds on the mountain bike, a week after the road," he said. "Without any specific preparation, I will try to go there without any pressure, and try to adapt. I will be there anyway, and maybe something nice can happen. Of course, the shape will be good from the road championships, so I’ll give it a try and see where it ends."
He will not be alone in combing disciplines at the 'super Worlds', with Chloe Dygert and Lotte Kopecky among those likely to race on the road and track, while Tom Pidcock could also target the MTB CX and road races, like Van der Poel.