Van der Poel Takeaways: Dutch ‘boy-wonder’ Mathieu van der Poel has had to call a halt to his cyclo-cross season due to his back problems – How will this affect his spring Classic campaign and the future of his Alpecin-Fenix team? Spencer Martin gives us his Takeaways on the ‘Van der Poel effect’.
How Mathieu van der Poel’s Injury Affects The Spring Classics Betting Odds & 2023 WorldTour Qualifying.
Mathieu van der Poel, the electric crossover star who has appeared to seamlessly jump between disciplines while winning major events in each with near ease, was recently forced to halt this year-round spinning-plates routine when he was sidelined with a back injury that will keep him out for, at the minimum, ‘months’ and almost certainly sideline him for this year’s Spring Classics, and possibly even the Tour de France.
According to Van der Poel’s physiotherapist, the back injury, which stems from swelling on an intervertebral disc in his back, is linked to the efforts Van der Poel has made across so many different disciplines over the years, and even referenced the ‘attacks he has committed on his body’, and emphasized that only rest would solve it. This shows the dangers of the year-round grind that has become popular with a new generation of riders like Van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Tom Pidcock.
The news is obviously devastating for Van der Poel, his Alpecin-Fenix team, and fans of exciting racing and cobbled rivalries, but it also shows the dangers of burning the candle on both ends as an athlete in perpetuity. At the beginning of 2021, I got a lot of heat for suggesting that Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel’s overloaded racing schedules could be shortening their road careers, but this recent incident should show that the bodies of even the most incredible athletes have limits and underline the importance of rest and recuperation between seasons.
The debate over the cause of Van der Poel’s injury and if he stretched himself too thin with his overloaded race schedule and all-out long-range attacks at non-core races like BinckBank Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico will rage on for months, but a more pressing concern is the fate of his Alpecin-Fenix team.
Does the Alpecin-Fenix team depend on only Van der Poel?
The second-division squad has shot up through the ranks and out-performed teams with much larger budgets in recent seasons. This is partly due to their strategy of staying out of the WorldTour and focusing on winning one-day races and grand tour stages with heavier, powerful riders, which allows them to manage their costs by controlling their race schedule and roster construction. But, a key component of this strategy hinges on Van der Poel, who can both generate enough WorldTour points to keep the team in the auto-invite territory (the second-division team with the highest number of UCI points earns automatic invitations to every WorldTour race, meaning they get the benefits of a WorldTour license without having to contribute the cost and infrastructure of being a WorldTour team) and has the star power to generate wildcard invitations from every major race in the event that they aren’t able to finish as the top second-division team.
However, a major risk of this strategy is that the entire program hinges on a healthy Van der Poel. If he is racing, he can both generate UCI points and race invitations, but, if for some reason he is unable to race, then the team, which was a rising force in the sport, could suddenly be on the outside looking in as early as 2023.
This Complicates Alpecin’s 2023 WorldTour Plans
In the short term, Alpecin has nothing to worry about, since its position as the top-ranked ProTeam (second-division) means they are guaranteed invites to every major race whether Van der Poel is racing or not. This is key not only for sponsor exposure but for their ability to get at-bats to generate UCI points which will likely allow them to finish as the top ProTeam again in 2022, along with qualifying for the WorldTour in 2023.
As I’ve touched on in the past few weeks, 2022 will see an epic relegation battle, with teams finishing in the top-18 of UCI points generated between 2020-2022 qualifying for the 2023 WorldTour. Alpecin currently sits in 10th place, 4,342 points ahead of 19th placed Arkéa-Samsic.
What does it mean to Barguil and the Arkéa-Samsic team?
Current 2022 Relegation Standings
Cumulative 2020-2022 Points Standings Difference
- Alpecin Fenix- 10th – 13,039 points
- Arkéa-Samsic- 19th – 8,697 points
- To lose WT qualifying slot, Alpecin would have to lose more than 4,342 (or more) points to a team currently outside the qualifying zone (1st-18th)
2021 UCI Points Alpecin-Fenix vs Arkéa
- Alpecin Fenix-8,297 points
- Mathieu van der Poel-2,467 points
- Arkéa-Samsic-5,037 points
- Gap between Alpecin w/out MvdP & Arkéa = 793
The good news for Alpecin is that Van der Poel generated 2,467 UCI points in 2021 (30% of his teams’ total points), which means that even if he fails to race a single day in 2022, it would be nearly impossible for Alpecin to fall out of the climate 2020-2022 top-18 UCI point slots.
However, since Arkéa finished 3,260 points behind Alpecin in 2022, which is reduced to only 793 points when Van der Poel is taken out of the equation, there is an outside chance that they or Peter Sagan’s TotalEnergies could finish ahead of a Van der Poel-less Alpecin in 2022 and take the invite-rich top ProTeam slot.
This possibility, combined with the recent health scare of their star riders, is likely enough to convince Alpecin to accept WorldTour status in 2022 to cement future invites, which is something they have resisted so far due to their extremely advantageous position as the sport’s best ProTeam with one of the sport’s biggest stars.
How This Creates A Spring Classics Betting Opportunity
While Van der Poel will almost certainly miss the Spring season (or, at best, enter the major races incredibly undertrained) due to his forced time off the bike, we can safely assume that he will be unable to seriously compete for the win at the first three Spring Monuments.
But, cycling betting markets, which are famously slow and easily exploitable, haven’t caught up to this development and still list Van der Poel as a heavy favorite for both Flanders and Roubaix. Van der Poel’s back injury may be tragic, both for him personally and us as fans, but opportunistic sports bettors can capitalize on this lag by shifting money to the other top favorites, who in reality have a much greater chance of winning than these odds currently reflect due to the continued presence of Van der Poel on the odds boards.
Current Spring Monuments Betting Odds & Implied Win Probability
+450 Wout van Aert (18.2%)
+650 Caleb Ewan (13.3%)
+700 Julian Alaphilippe (12.5%)
+1600 Mathieu van der Poel (5.9%)
Tour of Flanders
+500 Wout van Aert (16.7%)
+500 Mathieu van der Poel (16.7%)
+650 Kasper Asgreen (13.3%)
+1200 Julian Alaphilippe (7.7%)
+500 Wout van Aert (16.7%)
+500 Mathieu van der Poel (16.7%)
+1200 Sonny Colbrelli (7.7%)
+1600 Kasper Asgreen (5.9%)
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #