The cyclo-cross World championships race in the Elite Men category didn't result in the expected triumph for the team Belgium in Tábor, Czech Republic on Sunday afternoon. Favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) lived up to his own expectations and dominated the race from start to finish. Before the World championships Wout Van Aert (Belgium) tried to hold off the pressure. He only came to the World championships to learn. That attitude turned around after a race that led him to the silver medal at 15 seconds from the winner. Van Aert clearly was the most disappointed rider after a late comeback saw him overtaking Lars van der Haar for second place in the final corner.
"Before the race I would've signed for silver but not now. I don't think I won silver. I lost gold," Van Aert said. "With my legs I always had to win. I think I can say that I was the best man in the race but that doesn't buy me anything," Van Aert told Sporza. Those fierce statements were not aimed at the winner but mainly towards himself. "It's sad that I wasn't able to make the race with Mathieu. Today he was also just super strong. He's a nice world champion. He'll show the jersey all year long," Van Aert told Sportwereld.
After three laps of racing Van der Poel was leading the race while Van Aert was 50 seconds down in sixth place. He was thrown backwards because of several reasons. First of all he dropped his chain twice. Three days before the race Van Aert received a new custom-painted blue Colnago bike which had a single front chainring whereas he usually rides a double chainring. "In hindsight it's easy to say riding a new bike was a mistake. I rode the bike before and it was never a problem. I was really looking forward riding my new bike but it ruined my race early on. I dropped my chain but I don't know how. Probably there was too much mud between my chain and the plate," Van Aert said.
The 20-year-old didn't want to blame the bike as main reason for his time loss. A crash during the third lap ended up being more crucial than his chain problems. He lost valuable time and was hurt physically. "I managed to come back in the race but a bit too quick. It was my own fault. I hit was a greasy corner and I approached it headlong. I had a nasty crash which hurt my shoulder," Van Aert said. Back in September Van Aert broke his collarbone. "I needed some time to bite through the pain and by that time Van der Poel was fifty seconds ahead."
From there he continuously clocked faster lap times than the leader. Five laps later Van Aert was only 15 seconds down on winner Van der Poel, finishing in second place. When reaching the finish Van Aert was furious. Throwing his arm, shouting out loud and pulling up his front wheel when crossing the line. A few minutes later he was more relaxed. That was in stark contrast to the Belgian national championship where he was devastated.
"It's useless to blame someone now. Maybe I should've switched bikes after my first chain problem but I wanted to come back as soon as possible. It was the crash that bothered me, not my chain problems. Why so frustrated at the finish line? That's because I hadn't seen Mathieu all race long and then in the finishing straight I just saw him hitting the last corner. That's why there was frustration. I knew I had made up a lot of ground," Van Aert said. "In normal conditions I always would've been in the mix for gold"