The 28-year-old, who has raced for Vacansoleil, Trek, Sky and Jumbo-Visma since turning pro in 2013, is joining Bora-Hansgrohe to link up with the returning Sam Bennett for the upcoming season. He’ll turn lead-out man for the 2019 Tour de France green jersey winner and has said that he’s looking forward to a new chapter in his career.
Van Poppel has taken 16 wins during his career as a sprinter, including a stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España, but in five months he’ll switch lanes to helping the Irishman add to his 56 victories.
“I’m feeling good here but it’s a new chapter in my career to go to Bora-Hansgrohe and be the lead-out man for Sam Bennett,” Van Poppel told Cyclingnews at the Arctic Race of Norway. “I’m really happy here but I choose to do a next step in my career. Bora is a really nice team and I’m really happy.”
Twice this season he came close to beating his future teammate, as he took second places behind Bennett in Portimão and Tavira at May’s Volta ao Algarve. However, Van Poppel said that it’s that small but noticeable difference between him and the prolific winners like Bennett, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), and Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) which contributed to his decision to change roles for 2022.
“I think that because I’m a good sprinter, but I don’t win 10 races a year,” he said. “I’m too all-round I think, to be one of the fastest sprinters, but I think that with my bigger engine it suits me really well. I think that, with my experience as a sprinter, I can be a really good lead-out man and that’s why I chose it.
“I tried already eight years to sprint, and I can be involved with the best sprinters, like in Algarve when I was close to Sam. But everything has to fit – a good position, a finish where I can give my power. Yes, I can win maybe one of two smaller races, but now I prefer to do a lead-out man. Now I’m ready for it. It’s also my age so it’s OK.”
Despite the difference between the two roles – in simplified terms, one man battling on the front in the final kilometre while the man behind holds the wheel until the optimal moment to jump – Van Poppel said that the role would not require any big adjustment in his training: “The training is not really different. For sure it will be a different role, but I think I can do it.”
He and Bennett will be joined at the team by fellow newcomers Marco Haller (from Bahrain Victorious), Ryan Mullen (from Trek-Segafredo), and Shane Archbold (from Deceuninck-QuickStep). Van Poppel was enthusiastic about the combination that has the potential to be one of the strongest lead-out trains in the peloton.
“I know them as riders, and I also saw that they signed Haller. It’s a really strong lead out. It’s a new project and I’m always open for a new project like that. I’m happy about it.”
First, though, he has to finish up his time with Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux and will look to add another win to his Gooikse Pijl victory from his two seasons there. He finished 84th on the hilly opening day of the Arctic Tour of Norway in Tromsø, though another chance, the flatter finish on Friday in Kilpisjärvi, follows.
“I’m looking forward. It’s my first race after the Tour de France – a really hard edition – so we’ll see how it goes. I’m motivated, we have Odd Christian Eiking here and he’s in really good shape so we’re looking forward.”