Although it was his first year in the U23 ranks, 19-year-old Dutch rider Mathieu van der Poel was a favorite to add an espoir UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship victory to the junior world title of last year. The World Cup winner's dreams were shattered on the first lap, when the aggressive Belgian team went on the attack, leaving the son of legend Adrie van der Poel to fight for bronze.
Wout Van Aert, the eventual winner, went on the attack from the first lap, while Van der Poel struggled to stay with the chase group. Michael Vanthourenhout rode solidly to the silver medal, while late in the race Van der Poel bounced back to take the bronze medal at 1:17 from the winner, breaking the grip of Belgians Laurens Sweeck and Toon Aerts.
"I don't know if this had to become my race. I'm a first-year U23 rider and I think some people expect too much. Maybe I won the bronze medal, but I came here for the jersey. It's a bit of a consolation prize."
"Two men were stronger. Obviously I wasn't in best shape today. Already in the first lap when I was impressed by [Van Aerts'] running. I thought: 'where is he going?' When Michael [Vanthourenhout] went I couldn't follow either. I was a bit sick but didn't think it would bother me. Even when I was good I would probably finish third. I wanted to quit but I didn't do it for the crowd. It was for the crowd that I kept going."
‘For the crowd' was meant in both a positive and negative way. Van der Poel didn't dare to pull out as that meant he had to find his way through the mass back to the camper. "I heard some Belgians booing. They didn't have to do that because I knew it myself," Van der Poel said laconically. "There's not much fun about riding this way but there was no way I could pull out. I felt straight away that I wasn't 100 per cent. Abandoning would've been the most wise thing to do but the reactions wouldn't be positive."
Van der Poel drew his conclusions from the beating he received and at the post-race press conference he stated that he would do less races on the road. That's no surprise as he signed a four-year deal with the Belgian BKCP-Powerplus cyclo-cross team.
"Why cyclo-cross? Because I like it the most. That was an easy decision. I took that decision with the eye on the next four years and after that we'll see."
"I'm focused on the field and less on the road. During the week I'm not training a lot to make it fresh to the races. I expected more from it but it wasn't possible today. Next year I'll take on things differently. I talked about it with Mike Teunissen [the defending U23 world champion]. My recovery isn't going that well. I didn't feel super but even then I don't think I could've beaten Wout. He was on a class of his own. On the tough courses I'm falling short. That's my workpoint for this summer."