Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) captured a repeat victory on the spectacular course at the Namur citadel on Sunday. Once again, Van der Poel fought out a great duel with World champion Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice). The latter was strong but made too many mistakes in the first half of the race and luckless in the final lap. Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) was best of the rest, finishing at a short distance back in third place.
"I had the feeling that Wout was the strongest man today but I'm able to ride a good finale in such a cross race. Last year I also won in a fantastic way, this year again. I'm enormously happy," Van der Poel said in the post-race interview.
Ever since winning the World Cup round in Namur in 2015 – also after close duel with Van Aert – Van der Poel has been unbeaten when starting a World Cup race; winning seven consecutive World Cup rounds. Due to a knee injury he missed the first two World Cup events of this season. Van Aert won the first two rounds but then finished as runner-up in the three following races of the series. He remains leader in the World Cup standings, holding 370 points. Pauwels is second with 294 points. Van der Poel is seventh with 240 points.
Sunday's race was a hard-earned win for the Dutchman. As Van der Poel said, Van Aert seemed to be the strongest on the climber's course in Namur but failed to turn that into an advatnage over Van der Poel. Straight from the start, Van der Poel featured at the head of the race while Van Aert kept bouncing off the front. The famous off-camber descent in Namur once again proved to be decisive. "During the recon it was dry and I thought to have found a line with good grip in the grass at the bottom of the section. During the race it was more difficult," Van Aert told Telenet Play Sports TV. The drizzle turned that line into a risky affair and Van Aert slipped away under the wired fencing. Van der Poel and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) profited although the latter flatted away from the front.
Van Aert had 14 seconds to make up after the opening lap. He closed down the gap impressive style and bridged up with Van der Poel just before the off-camber section only to struggle again. Van Aert started at the bottom and this time he went over the handlebars. "After the first time I thought that I was in the wrong rut. It was stupid to try it again a second time. It took a while before I had the right feeling in that section," Van Aert said.
Again, Van der Poel completed the lap with an advantage, this time of 16 seconds on Van Aert, Meeusen and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games). Still, Van der Poel didn't seem as fresh, as eager as he tends to be. Van Aert needed more time to recover from his second crash but he showed grit and fought back. The off-camber section went better for him during the third lap. Behind, Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com) crashed spectacularly on the tricky downhill, dropping out of the top 10.
Van Aert gained time at the back end of the course on a steep climb where he stayed aboard his bike while Van der Poel opted to run. The gap was down to nine seconds after the third lap, with Meeusen at twice that distance. Vanthourenhout was nearly half a minute down on Van der Poel, just ahead of a group at 37 seconds that included slow-starting Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games).
Halfway through the fourth lap, Van Aert bridged back up with Van der Poel and a cease-fire followed, allowing Tom Meeusen to bridge up as well. The first chase group featured Pauwels, Telenet-Fidea riders Toon Aerts and Corné van Kessel, Michael Vanthourenhout and Laurens Sweeck (Era Real Estate-Circus) and trailed the three leaders by 17 seconds. For less than half a lap Van Aert rode in the lead group and then he crashed for the third time. Riding in front of Meeusen and Van der Poel, he overtook a corner and got stuck behind the wiring with his handlebars.
Van Aert again lost valuable time as he needed to make quick adjustments and get a new bike. Halfway through the race, during the fifth of ten laps, he exited the pits at the back of the chase group in eighth position. Once again, he was trailing Van der Poel, who was probably surprised to see he was still leading the race. When hitting the sixth lap, Van Aert was at the back of the chase group, 18 seconds down on Van der Poel and Meeusen.
Still, Van Aert didn't give up and two laps later the World Champion replaced a tired Meeusen in the lead group, with Meeusen drifting back to Pauwels, 24 seconds down on the leaders. The rest of the field was at least a minute behind the top duo, though Van der Poel was tiring. "It was a tough race, a very long cross for me. Straight from the start I wasn't feeling super but a few times I received a bonus due to mistakes from Wout. He returned impressively strong. If he would've kept the hammer down I would've cracked before him," Van der Poel said.
During the eighth lap Van Aert was able to drop Van der Poel for the first time in the race. He opened up a gap of five seconds by riding up the steep climb at the back-end of the course while Van der Poel failed in his attempt. This time, Van der Poel was the one to show grit as he closed down the gap on the long climb toward the esplanade and the start-finish line.
With two laps to go the race seemed like it might go either way. Van Aert seemed to be the stronger rider but dropping Van der Poel after spending so much energy in chasing would be a tall order. The duo hit the penultimate lap with a bonus of 26 seconds on Pauwels. One lap later Pauwels halved that deficit, making it clear the leaders were eying each other and taking a breather. Halfway through the final lap Pauwels was only a handful of seconds down on the duo before they upped the pace to battle for the victory.
"I knew they would accelerate and I would get dropped. It was fun to be that close though. I didn't have a super day like yesterday," Pauwels told Telenet Play Sports.
Van Aert and Van der Poel traded blows as they approached the off-camber descent. Van Aert fenced off a first move from Van der Poel and started the descent in the lead. Van der Poel wasted no time, and gambled by taking a lower start on the downhill. He blasted by Van Aert and gained a few metres. Van Aert returned onto his wheel before the final steep climb but then discovered Van der Poel had saved his best for last. "I quickly focused on the final lap and knew that steep climb would be crucial. I rode my sprint over there," Van der Poel said.
The Dutch rider sprinted up the climb and surprised Van Aert, who set foot to the ground. On the long climb back up to the esplanade, the gap deepened. Just as in Antwerp one day earlier, Van der Poel beat Van Aert in a last-lap thriller.
"I'm disappointed. Losing in the final lap for the second day in a row is no fun," Van Aert said.
Van Aert and Van der Poel are set to clash again in the seventh round of the UCI World Cup in Heusden-Zolder. The course at the car racing circuit was host to the 2016 UCI World Championships back in January, where Van Aert triumphed to earn a year in the rainbow jersey.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mathieu Van der Poel (Ned) Beobank-Corendon||1:04:20|
|2||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice||0:00:16|
|3||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games||0:00:27|
|4||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:08|
|5||Laurens Sweeck (Bel) ERA-Circus||0:01:22|
|6||Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:32|
|7||Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:37|
|8||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games||0:01:48|
|9||Marcel Meisen (Ger) Steylaerts-Verona||0:02:33|
|10||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games||0:02:44|
|11||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Team Steylaerts||0:02:49|
|12||Michael Boros (Cze) ERA-Circus||0:02:50|
|13||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) Beobank-Corendon||0:03:06|
|14||Severin Sagesser (Swi)||0:03:10|
|15||Jens Adams (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice||0:03:16|
|16||Tim Merlier (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice||0:03:23|
|17||Ismael Esteban Aguando (Spa)||0:03:29|
|18||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Beobank-Corendon||0:03:52|
|19||Stephen Hyde (USA) Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com||0:03:56|
|20||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games||0:04:04|
|21||Stan Godrie (Ned) Rabobank Development Team||0:04:09|
|22||Nicola Rohrbach (Swi)||0:04:21|
|23||Diether Sweeck (Bel) ERA-Circus||0:04:26|
|24||Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez (Spa)||0:04:28|
|25||Lukas Winterberg (Swi)||0:04:35|
|26||Martin Haring (Svk) Dukla Banska Bystrica||0:04:48|
|27||Daan Soete (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:05:09|
|28||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:05:17|
|29||David Van der Poel (Ned) Beobank-Corendon||0:05:20|
|30||Sascha Weber (Ger)||0:05:22|
|31||Patrick Van Leeuwen (Ned) Cyclingteam Jo Piels||0:05:29|
|32||Simon Zahner (Swi)||0:05:31|
|33||Francis Mourey (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept||0:05:51|
|34||Melvin Rulliere (Fra)|
|35||Marcel Wildhaber (Swi) Scott-Odlo Mtb Racing Team|
|36||Geoff Kabush (Can) Scott-3Rox Racing|
|37||Alois Falenta (Fra)|
|38||Daan Hoeyberghs (Bel) Beobank-Corendon|
|39||Lorenzo Samparisi (Ita)|
|40||Niels Wubben (Ned)|
|41||Enrico Franzoi (Ita)|
|42||Luca Braidot (Ita)|
|43||Daniele Braidot (Ita)|
|44||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned) Telenet Fidea Lions|
|45||Andreas Moser (Swi)|
|46||Kevin Suarez Fernandez (Spa)|
|47||Felix Drumm (Ger)|
|48||Michael Wildhaber (Swi)|
|49||Nicolas Samparisi (Ita)|
|50||Marvin Schmidt (Ger)|
|51||Mark Mcconnell (Can) Hot Sauce Cycling X Garneau|
|52||Asier Arregui Dominguez (Spa)|
|53||Wolfram Kurschat (Ger) Koch Engineering / Muesing Racing Team|
|54||Eric Thompson (USA) Hed p/b Molten Speed Wax|
|55||Vincent Dias Dos Santos (Lux)|