Mathieu van der Poel recovered from a second lap crash before putting on a masterclass of bike riding to clinch a fourth elite men’s cyclo-cross world title.
The 26-year-old completed a clean sweep of world titles for the Netherlands from the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in the Belgian coastal town of Ostend.
As expected Wout van Aert (Belgium) was his main challenger, but a third-lap puncture gave his rival a 10-second margin which the Dutchman grew to an unassailable margin.
Toon Aerts (Belgium) took his third World Championship bronze medal in as many years after seeing off a late challenge by Tom Pidcock (Great Britain).
“The flat tyre [for Wout van Aert] was a little bit of luck from my side to come back but at that moment I didn’t feel the race was over yet,” said Van der Poel.
“The course changed and became a bit faster at the beach section and I felt a bit better. I felt better legs by then and I improved every lap running through the sand, so the good feeling was growing lap by lap and that made the difference for me today.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions no crowds and only limited personnel were allowed on the site of the race in Ostend.
“It means a lot but it feels really strange and doesn’t really feel like a World Championships, there’s no crowd, no friend and no family around the track,” added Van der Poel.
“It feels a bit weird but when I pull the jersey on the podium maybe it will come to mind that I’m world champion again.”
How it unfolded
Pidcock and Van Aert jostled for position going into the first corner. As the course narrowed onto the bridge, Pidcock and Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) were two of the riders who were delayed.
Van Aert hit the sand first riding in the waves of the North Sea to find the hardest ground, closely monitored by Van der Poel. The leading duo showed their skills riding the sand section to go clear of four Belgium riders chasing, while Pidcock was fighting his way back into the top 10.
On the second time through the sand, Van Aert dealt the first mental blow passing his rival and was able to ride a section that the reigning champion was forced to run.
Under pressure Van der Poel then crashed over the bars on a slick muddy section as he looked to pull back the slender gap to his rival.
Van Aert had a gap of 15 seconds on van der Poel after the second lap, while Aerts had gapped his Belgian teammates a further 15 seconds back.
On the third time through the Ostend sand, Van der Poel pulled the margin back to 10 seconds to his rival as they went head-to-head.
At the front Van Aert had a puncture allowing Van der Poel to ride straight past on the muddy section approaching the finish, and put an 11-second gap into his rival with over half of the race remaining.
In the battle for bronze, Pidcock, who will be riding the Belgian classics for Ineos Grenadiers on the road this season, pushed through the Belgian quartet and went in pursuit of Aerts.
In role reversal from earlier in the race, Van Aert could see the slender gap between himself and Van der Poel as the course pulled back on itself on the grassy turns. Just as Van Aert looked to have ground the gap back to his rival, two small mistakes in the sand saw the Belgian dismount allowing Van der Poel to pull out an advantage to 13 seconds once again with three laps remaining.
Meanwhile, Pidcock was on a charge pulling back the gap to Aerts before the Belgian responded riding clear in the sand in the fight for bronze. Once he regained an advantage, Aerts put Pidcock under pressure and grew his gap out to 16 seconds, while Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) closed down on the British rider.
At the bell Van der Poel had a margin of 29 seconds over Van Aert, while Aerts was over a minute and 30 seconds behind the lone leader.
Van der Poel had time to take the final corners cautiously before celebrating a fourth world title and third in a row. Van Aert maintained his chase but had to settle for silver while Aerts had to sprint for bronze as a fast-finishing Pidcock closed him down in the closing stages.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands)||0:58:57|
|2||Wout van Aert (Belgium)||0:00:37|
|3||Toon Aerts (Belgium)||0:01:24|
|4||Thomas Pidcock (Great Britain)||0:01:37|
|5||Laurens Sweeck (Belgium)||0:02:05|
|6||Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium)||0:02:14|
|7||Eli Iserbyt (Belgium)||0:02:18|
|8||Quinten Hermans (Belgium)||0:02:23|
|9||Lars van der Haar (Netherlands)||0:02:41|
|10||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Netherlands)||0:03:15|
|11||Corne van Kessel (Netherlands)||0:04:09|
|12||Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium)||0:04:21|
|13||Kevin Kuhn (Switzerland)||0:04:29|
|14||Daan Soete (Belgium)||0:04:57|
|15||Yan Gras (France)||0:05:11|
|16||Joshua Dubau (France)||0:05:28|
|17||Tim Merlier (Belgium)||0:05:34|
|18||Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic)||0:05:42|
|19||Timon Ruegg (Switzerland)||0:05:50|
|20||Curtis White (United States Of America)||0:06:33|
|21||David van der Poel (Netherlands)|
|22||David Menut (France)|
|23||Gioele Bertolini (Italy)|
|24||Jakob Dorigoni (Italy)|
|25||Jonas Lindberg (Denmark)|
|26||Felipe Orts Lloret (Spain)|
|27||Steve Chainel (France)|
|28||Cristian Cominelli (Italy)|
|29||Kevin Suarez Fernandez (Spain)|
|30||Gilles Mottiez (Switzerland)|
|31||Ismael Esteban Aguero (Spain)|
|32||Sebastian Fini Carstensen (Denmark)|
|33||Michael Boros (Czech Republic)|
|34||Sascha Weber (Germany)|
|35||Heinrich Haussler (Australia)|
|36||Marek Konwa (Poland)|
|37||Ondrej Glajza (Slovakia)|
|38||Nicolas Samparisi (Italy)|
|39||Antonio Folcarelli (Italy)|
|40||Matej Ulik (Slovakia)|
|41||Mariusz Michalek (Poland)|
|42||Philipp Heigl (Austria)|
|43||Jakub Kurty (Slovakia)|
|44||Patryk Kostecki (Poland)|