Eli Iserbyt raises questions about Mathieu van der Poel's statements: "It's more noise than reality." Cyclo-cross

Eli Iserbyt raises questions about Mathieu van der Poel's statements: "It's more noise than reality."

Eli Iserbyt raises questions about Mathieu van der Poel's statements: "It's more noise than reality."

A relaxed atmosphere, that was the scene on Friday afternoon at the press conference of the Belgian cyclo-cross men ahead of their World Championship race this coming Sunday. Eli Iserbyt and Michael Vanthourenhout, as seasoned cyclo-cross riders, are perhaps at the top of the Flemish pyramid, yet they are also the first to acknowledge that Mathieu van der Poel is the man to beat par excellence. IDLProCycling.com joined them in Tábor.

With the World Championships approaching, the course's condition is always a point of discussion. "The course will deteriorate further, which isn't great. A faster course is always preferable, but it's going to be very challenging to ride, as we saw during the Mixed Relay when riders had to dismount at times. It's definitely going to make things tougher," Iserbyt believes. Vanthourenhout, who competed in the Mixed Relay, agrees. "I did a recon around 11 o'clock, and by the time the Mixed Relay started, the conditions had already changed."

For the Belgians' tactics, it doesn't make much difference, the European champion indicates. "Nowadays, cyclo-cross isn't hard, it's just a matter of getting to the finish as quickly as possible." The Van der Poel factor plays a role in this, the Pauwels Sauces-Bingoal men suggest. "A lot depends on how Mathieu starts and his condition on the day itself. If he rides like he did in Hamme and Hoogerheide, then we need to try to stay with him as long as possible. On the other hand, he can also break away easily. But: the longer he waits, the more our morale will be boosted."

iserbyt vanthourenhout

Vanthourenhout: "There won't be much tactics involved."

He briefly kept pace with the Dutchman in Hamme. "Being alongside him for a bit gets you thinking, but the situation can change after just a few turns. There won't be much tactics involved." Iserbyt has a slightly different opinion. "Going along with Mathieu does come with a risk. Older riders might consider this, whereas the younger ones may not," noted the Belgian champion.

It's clear: Van der Poel is the one the Belgians need to watch. After the Hoogerheide race, he suggested that a winter without cyclo-cross might actually benefit him. But how do Iserbyt and his peers feel about this? "If the World Championships are far off and it doesn't fit in the schedule, then it's likely to be the case," the Belgian hinted with a smile, before adding, "Mathieu was candid, and the media ran with it. I think there's more noise than what's really going on," expressing his skepticism about Van der Poel's immediate future without cyclo-cross.

mathieu van der poel

Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock won't be competing in Tábor. "With or without Mathieu, each scenario has its own appeal. It doesn't necessarily get easier because everyone's goal is to perform their best. The World Championship is a different beast altogether, where many outcomes are possible. You could have six or seven potential world champions, but that's all speculative," he explained. The choice of tactics, particularly for the Belgians, is significantly influenced by Van Aert's participation. "With Wout, we've had clear strategies, even last year. The start was crucial, but then again, it always is."

Iserbyt: "It could easily be first through fourth place for the Netherlands."

The Belgians, aiming for podium finishes, are also keeping an eye on other Dutch riders like Pim Ronhaar, Joris Nieuwenhuis, and Lars van der Haar. "We're not assuming a podium without Belgians. A lot will depend on how the Dutch approach it; I think they'll let Mathieu go ahead as quickly as possible and leave the work to us. We have to stay alert," Iserbyt warns his teammates.

The spirited cyclo-cross rider doesn't single out anyone besides Van der Poel. "Every Dutchman is the same," he jokes, getting a laugh from the entire press room, before correcting himself with a smile. "All three are equally good. Sometimes one is better, other times another. They're all very good, and it could easily be the Dutch taking places one through four, so we can't be oblivious to that."

"Given the current conditions: it's better for the Dutch than for us. Those real muddy crosses like Dublin or the Dutch National Championships, we don't have those here," says Iserbyt, who, despite his achievements, doesn't easily settle for a silver or bronze medal in Tábor. "For this season, that would certainly not be out of place," concludes the World Cup and Belgian National Champion.

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