Paris-Roubaix 2021 - 'It would be quite cool if it rains' - Mathieu van der Poel ready for a wet debut on the cobbles
Forecast rain could add further spice as one of cycling's monuments returns after a pandemic-enforced absence of nearly two-and-a-half years. Despite a troublesome back injury, suffered in the mountain bike race at Tokyo 2020, cyclocross star Van der Poel is regarded as among the favourites in his first start in northern France.
Dutch Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Fenix and Belgian Tim Merlier of Alpecin-Fenix pictured in action during a training session ahead of the 118th edition of the 'Paris-Roubaix' one day cycling race, from Compiegne, near Paris to Roubaix
Mathieu van der Poel is relishing the prospect of a wet Paris-Roubaix as he prepares for a tilt at the monument in his first star on the French cobbles.
The cyclocross star is regarded as one of the favourites having proved himself on all manner of surfaces in his career so far.
While the Dutchman shares the concerns of his fellow riders, including those expressed by defending champion Philippe Gilbert, over the safety issues posed by slickened cobbles, van der Poel believes the inclement forecast could lead to a "quite cool" return for the race, which is to be held for the first time since the spring of 2019.
"I think it's quite cool if it rains but yeah, it will be dangerous, for sure," Van der Poel said ahead of Sunday October 3's race.
"I understood what [Philippe Gilbert] said about if you can avoid the crashing. [The race] is already a lot and I think it's always the case in Roubaix. You have to be very cautious and try not to have a flat tyre or a crash and if it's wet then it's even more the case.
"I think if it's dry, it's already a pretty hard race. If it's wet, it's even more technical but yeah, the problem is you're riding with a big bunch and if they crash in front of you it's difficult to avoid it.
I think it will be cool if it's safe enough to ride a wet Roubaix once. I think it's also that if you can stay out of trouble then it's quite OK with cobbles.
Van der Poel has been bothered by a back issue since a crash at Tokyo 2020 ended his bid to take Olympic mountain bike gold.
He returned with a typically explosive sprint to victory at the Antwerp Port Epic in September, a race comprising both gravel and cobble sections.
On that occasion van der Poel edged out fellow multi-faceted star and rival Wout van Aert, who is also tipped to be in contention to take victory at the Roubaix velodrome.
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Van der Poel will be able to call on the expertise of teammate Silvan Dillier as he plots his first run around the cobbles, with the Swiss a former runner-up having pushed Peter Sagan all the way in 2018.
"My back is not at 100 per cent yet, but it doesn't disturb me on the bike anymore," van der Poel said of his preparation for the event.
"It's difficult to say [if my cyclo-cross experience will help. Like I said, if you're riding in a bunch, you also have to deal with other riders. It's going to be slippery and hectic. I think it's OK if you can handle your bike but it's not always the case that you have the cards in your own hands.
"I think if there's a lot of tailwind and the cobbles are wet then I think the race can happen quite quickly as well. Then it's just a matter of staying out of trouble all day. Like the other riders say, if you can manage that then it's already the first step towards riding a final."
The forecast for the weekend is for rain and wind in the French town, with conditions likely to be akin to those that caused carnage over the cobbles during the 2014 Tour de France.
The last time there was a running of the "Hell of the North" in similarly wild weather was 2002.