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Mathieu van der Poel’s Incredible Comeback | How He Prepared for the classics

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Mathieu van der Poel started his 2022 season at Milan - San Remo.

This was after an 2021/22 off-season hampered by an enforced rest. He needed this time out to recover from the back injury he picked up at the Tour De France and aggravated with his huge crash at the Olympic mountain bike race.

The Return to Training

After his month out, Van der Poel’s first training rides started on 29th January. He started with three easy rides on Zwift and then progressed outdoors around Antwerp. The rides were not hard, with average power on the outdoor rides ranging from 200 to 230 watts, with the longest one being just over three hours long.

Van der Poel’s training rides from 29th January to 9th February. Data – Strava

At this point MVDP's average heart rate for the power he produced was 140 BPM for around 200 watts in January, 148 BPM for 215-220 watts in the first week of February. The ratio between his power and heart rate was going to rapidly change in the next few weeks.

Training camp in Spain

After a relatively easy first week, MVDP went to Alicante in Spain for a training camp (9th February). Session length and intensity increased, and the first specific intervals were incorporated after a few days.

Van der Poel’s training rides from 10th to 28th February. Data – Strava

MVDP and his coach, Kristof de Kegel, didn't appear to include any sprint efforts. Maybe these drills aggravate his back or are just not a performance metric that hadn't been hampered too much with his time off the bike.

Even without sprint efforts, Van der Poel started to introduce some training intensity very soon after arriving in Alicante. His coach often prescribed short over/under intervals as well as regular 15 minute tests. Below is one of the over/under sessions the Dutchman did during the training camp.

Over/Unders for 20th February training ride

After a month of training, van der Poel did a test on the famous Coll de Rates segment. He produced 389 watts for 15:35 at an average heart rate of 177 BPM (5.19 w/kg according to his 75 kg Strava weight).

This test on the 26th of February came after 12 or so actual training rides since MVDP returned to training and unsurprisingly was significantly below what he can do at his peak level. The very next day, MVDP performed a VO2 max test at the end of a long ride, producing 449 watts (5.99 w/kg) for just under eight minutes.

Van der Poel’s VO2max test after a lot of fatigue

Pro cyclists need to perform after a lot of fatigue at the end of races (particularly the classics that MVDP targets) and this test result was much more encouraging than his 15 minute test the day before.

Big Gains in March

In March van der Poel upped his training load and progressed his power at various test durations at an astonishing rate.

Van der Poel’s training rides from 1st to 18th March. Data – Strava

On the very first ride of the month, just three days after his 15 minute test at the end of February, MVDP did three efforts all with higher power at a longer duration than during the test. On his second effort of the ride, just over 15 minutes, he did 10 watts more at 10BPM less than three days before as well as another VO2 max test to finish the ride with 20 watts more than before.

The second effort on the March 1st ride

MVDP seemed happy with his progress, captioning the ride – “finally some good legs.”

The next week followed a similar training pattern, long rides with over/under work but with the watts on the overs now dialled up to 450-460 watts instead of 420. On 12th March van der Poel did an impressive 15 minute test on the Collao Laguar por Castells climb, producing 469 watts for 14:35 (6.25 w/kg).

Van der Poel’s power data

He did the first 13:31 with 460 watts and ended the effort with a big surge to replicate a race scenario. This effort shows his insane physiological progress in just a few weeks. Remember that end of February Coll de Rates test, where he produced 389 watts for 15:35 (5.19 w/kg)? Just two weeks later MVDP has done the same test with an additional 1 w/kg, at a lower heart rate and with irregular pacing – incredible improvement.

Van der Poel’s heart rate for a given power also lowered significantly during his Alicante training block. Despite MVDP doing longer rides with many efforts later in the training camp, with aerobic decoupling usually occurring during such rides, his average ride heart rate was the same (135 BPM) for a 318 normalised power ride in March as it was for a 225 normalised power ride in February.

Obviously MVDP this rate of improvement will plateau quickly, however with a busy month of racing through mid March to Easter he should be in top form for the cobbled classics.

Van der Poel’s training kilometres, time and gained vertical meters since 31st January

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