Dutch master Mathieu van der Poel wins world road race title on treacherous Glasgow course

Dutch master Mathieu van der Poel wins world road race title on treacherous Glasgow course
Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands wins the Men's Elite Road Race at the UCI Cycling World Championships 2023 in Glasgow, Britain, on 6 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Robert Perry)

Van der Poel fulfilled a lifelong ambition by winning the 2023 World Road Race title around a tricky, twisty Glasgow circuit.

Mathieu van der Poel became the first Dutch world road race champion for nearly 40 years with a masterful ride around the rain-drenched streets of Glasgow on Sunday.

The 28-year-old attacked from a small lead group on the penultimate circuit of the twisty, 14.3-km city course, leaving rivals Tadej Pogacar, Wout van Aert and Mads Pedersen trailing.

Van der Poel stepped on the pedals to pull away but with 15km remaining, he endured a heart-in-the-mouth moment when he slithered off his bike into railings on a greasy right-hand corner, leaving him with a ripped shirt and damaged shoe.

He calmly remounted and managed to extend his lead to more than a minute in front of huge crowds, many in Dutch colours.

Avoiding any more scares on the final lap, he weaved his way through the 43 tight corners and raised his arms aloft, looking to the skies as he crossed the line in George Square.

The Classics specialist and five-time cyclocross world champion is the first Dutchman to win the rainbow jersey in the road race since Joop Zoetemelk in 1985.

Belgium’s Van Aert had to settle for a fourth world silver medal on the road with Slovenia’s two-time Tour de France winner Pogacar outsprinting Pedersen for bronze.

Van der Poel, whose father was a world champion cyclist and whose grandfather Raymond Poulidor won the Vuelta a Espana, is a sporting superstar in the Netherlands but his ride in Glasgow addresses one gap on his glittering palmares.

Mathieu van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands at the conclusion of the Men’s Elite Road Race at the UCI Cycling World Championships 2023 in Glasgow, Britain, on 6 August, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Robert Perry)

“Maybe this completes my career in my opinion, it’s maybe my biggest victory on the road and I cannot imagine riding in the rainbows for a year,” Van der Poel said.

“When I went away, I didn’t expect to have a gap but then when I saw nobody was following it gave me wings and I was just flying around the course. Until the crash.

“For a moment I thought it was over.”

Protesters halt race

The 271-km race, which started in Edinburgh and ended with an unprecedented 10 laps around Glasgow’s city centre, was halted for nearly an hour after 80km of riding when protesters from environmental group This Is Rigged blocked the road ahead.

Police eventually removed the protesters, some of whom reportedly glued themselves to the road, and made five arrests.

Van der Poel said he used a nearly hour-long stoppage to Sunday’s showpiece race to answer the call of nature in comfort.

While some riders took on food and drink or had a massage in a team car, Van der Poel’s needs were rather more urgent and he managed to find a house for a comfort break rather than having to skip behind the nearest hedge.

“I went into a house,” the 28-year-old said at his press conference in Glasgow where he became the first Dutchman for 38 years to win the world road race title despite suffering a crash with 15km to go.

 “The interruption lasted quite a long time and I had to go to the toilet. I don’t think I was the only one. So, thanks to the people who welcomed us.”


Before the stoppage, nine riders had formed a breakaway, although none of them were big favourites.

With the Belgians, Danes and Italians leading the chase towards Glasgow and the circuits, the gap was whittled down and the escapees were eventually swept up.

The incessant cornering and accelerations decimated the peloton, leaving a select group from which Italian Alberto Bettiol launched an audacious attack with around four circuits remaining and built up a handy lead.

But once Van der Poel, Pogacar, Van Aert and Pedersen organised the chase it was curtains for the Italian and the stage was set for the three biggest names in the sport, along with 2019 world champion Pedersen, to fight for gold.

Heavy rain provided another twist and Van der Poel might have paid for his late spill but, with a rainbow arced over the city, he closed in on the rainbow jersey.

Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands celebrates his victory at the men’s Elite Road Race at the UCI Cycling World Championships 2023 in Glasgow, Britain, on 6 August, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Robert Perry)

“I was not taking risks. I don’t know, in this corner all of a sudden I was on the ground. I was pretty pissed at myself,” Van der Poel said. “It was super slippery and really difficult but I managed to pull it off.”

When Van der Poel powered up the steep Montrose Road climb for the final time he could finally enjoy ending the long Dutch wait for a road world champion. He could go for the triple in next week’s mountain bike race, having won the World Cyclocross title in February. Reuters/DM


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