Over the past few years, Mathieu van der Poel is leaving no stone unturned and he is currently enjoying the shape of his life. The fans that watch him win live go back home with a memory that they will never forget, but luckily there are also professional photographers capturing the many successful moments of the Dutch rider. Here is when Mats Palinckx comes into play.
Mats, 26 years old and born in Wuustwezel, Belgium, is currently in a privileged position as the content creator not only for Mathieu van der Poel but also for other renowned brands in the cycling industry. Both photography and videography are his bread and butter, which makes him stand out from the rest in the current times in which Instagram Reels get more attention than high-resolution prints.
His professional career kind of started in De Oude Withoef and not, it is not the name of a random cycling race in the middle of Belgium. De Oude Withoef is the go-to bar in his area and the place where he started by simply taking photos in AUTO mode and getting paid a few euros an hour.
Mats wanted to improve his content creation skills, so after graduating from high school he studied videography just across the border in the Netherlands. He quickly started putting everything into practice, which led him to more nightlife gigs.
Then he stepped into the musical festival scene, combining it with corporate stuff for big companies. He can proudly say he has covered Tomorrowland for four years now, and even if cycling is his current focus, he is hoping for a 5th in 2024. All this may seem off-topic, but taking into account that Tomorrowland’s venue is also the place where the Boom Superprestige CX race takes place, we feel entitled to include it.
Night photography is quite taxing to the body, even if you are not the one partying. That prompted him to look for cycling-related work, as it is the sport he has always been passionate about. “I was a big, big Tom Boonen fan. I remember once in 2006 I was planning on watching Scheldeprijs live and Boonen had an accident that prevented him from taking part in the race. I was in tears!”, he said. Mats also rode his bike competitively and, as every Flemish rider, he was quite good at it.
He raced at a high level up until Juniors, when he had to stop due to health problems. He suffers from asthma and he developed a chest pain and bacterial infection that prevented him from going deep when racing. After a forced rest he decided to focus on his photography career, but nowadays he is back to some sort of competitive level by taking part in local races with friends.
Transitioning to cycling photography
Over the next few years, he continued on the hunt for sports-related stuff. At some point, when he was 19 years old, he went for a ride with Nathan Van Hooydonck, the recently retired Jumbo-Visma rider and a good friend of Mathieu van der Poel. Nathan put Mats in contact with Mathieu and he arranged everything so that Mats would take some photos of the current World Champion during the CX race in Koksijde. They stayed in contact since then and, when in 2023 Mathieu considered that he needed to start posting more things on social media to show his personal side and the brands that sponsor him, Mats was the chosen one.
At first instance, it was a shooting for 4Gold, the nutrition brand founded by one of Mathieu’s closest friends. Later, during the week leading to Paris-Roubaix, they went for a ride together in which Mathieu pitched him about his plans and how he was planning on involving the young content creator. The legend says that Mats beat Mathieu in a town sign sprint that day, which may or may not have been the deciding factor to kickstart their collaboration. “He can stomach better losing a big race like the Ronde van Vlaanderen than getting beaten in a sprint during a casual ride”, we were told.
Then Mathieu fully focused on the second part of the season. After his successful year, which ended on a high by winning the World Championships, he started dedicating a bit more time to sponsorship duties, with Mats as his go-to person to create content for him.
In the last couple of months, several collaborations have been viral on social media, like the Instagram Reels Mathieu published to show his daily routine in Spain preparing for the season ahead. It allowed Mats to escape briefly from the cold in Belgium, stay at Mathieu’s place for a couple of days, and check firsthand what it takes to reach the physical level Mathieu is currently enjoying. We could not resist asking how Mathieu is as a person and, as you may guess, he was defined as a very chill and down-to-earth individual.
A combination of photo and video
Knowing that nowadays Mats combines photography with videography, we asked him how he is able to deliver such high-quality content in both spectrums. He did a lot of video when he was younger, but then switched to photography. Last year he did some video edits for Flanders Classics, which triggered him to start taking his own videos again.
For the recent GP Sven Nys, he worked for Ridley and Stybar, who is since January 1st racing as a one-man team leading up to the cyclocross World Championships in his home country Czech Republic, where he will put an end to his professional career. He wanted both photos and a video, which Mats realized was going to be difficult to fulfill. “If you want to shoot a proper video on race day you have to be with him all the time, but the nature of a cyclocross race does not really allow for it”, he realized. He chose a good spot where he could see Stybar approach him and decide the content to create. One lap he focused on photos, the following on video, and so forth. In the end, they came up with an engaging Instagram Reels that perfectly shows how tough was that muddy race.
A style beyond the individual
Mats is really into the stories around the act of cycling, not exclusively racing. He wouldn’t mind collaborating with a cycling team but he would focus more on the culture of the team and, for example, what’s going on in the team bus, rather than the race per se.
Mats explained that his CX pictures are very representative of his style. “I like to capture the atmosphere around, going beyond the rider. If I focus exclusively on the riders, it’s like something is missing, as the fans are also important”. He explained to us that one year at the Ronde van Vlaanderen he saw an old man in a wheelchair cheering for the riders, and it caught his attention. ”That’s what cycling is about in Belgium, and I love to capture that”.
When asked about the similarities and differences between corporate events and professional cycling, Mats mentioned that his style is also apparent there, as for corporate events you have to make the environment stand out and not really the individuals, because they are usually irrelevant. “The editing process is also similar. Corporative content is cleaner, but for cycling you can be a bit more extreme when editing”, he mentioned.
When it comes to camera gear, Mats carries both a Canon R6 and Canon R5. With the same camera, he takes photos and video, and makes the most of the dynamic color range of shooting in log – that is, Canon’s C-Log 3 encoding method – for the task at hand.
Most of the time he uses a 50 mm or 85 mm prime lens. “At the moment my wide-fix lens is kind of broken, and in some situations I miss it”, he confesses. A zoom lens ranging from 70 to 200 mm is also present in his camera bag, so you can imagine that he burns a decent amount of calories when going from one side to the other in the cyclocross circuits.
2024 and beyond
Mats Palinckx is still busy with the CX season and hopes to continue producing content for Mathieu for the rest of the year, even if his involvement in road cycling is still unclear. “I also want to cover the big classics as an individual, for myself. These plans would bring me to different countries in Europe, but if my current customers, which are mainly Belgian-based, require me to stay here, I also need to take that into account”, Mats said. For example, Tomorrowland overlaps with the Tour de France, and even if the French Grand Tour is a goal for Mats, the opportunity cost is very high.