After finishing runner-up in six rounds of the World Cup this season, Wout van Aert finally managed to get on the top spot. The world champion won the penultimate round of the season in chilly Pont-Château, France, after a three-man sprint against new Belgian champion Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal), making it an all-Belgian podium in the Brittany region of France.
Van Aert will start next week’s final World Cup round in Hoogerheide in the white World Cup leader’s jersey, which had been worn by Aerts ever since the opening round in Waterloo (USA) in September.
The morale-boosting victory comes just in time for Van Aert, two weeks ahead of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Bogense (Denmark), where he’ll defend his title. His major challenger in Denmark will be Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), who skipped the French World Cup round to prepare for the rainbow jersey race.
"Finally," Van Aert said shortly after crossing the finish line, where he released a loud scream of joy. "I’m saying all the time that I’m continuing to work but this is what I was waiting for. Finally a win that matters. I’m really satisfied with this.
"I think it was a wonderful cross race to watch. The course was ideal for entertaining situations," he added, and he was right. In stark contrast to the Van der Poel-dominated races we’ve seen before, there was a battle until the final moments of the race. No fewer than six riders were still in contention for the victory on the final lap.
The fast course on the Coët-Roz circuit was spacious and technically not very challenging, which helped to limit the gaps between the riders. Whereas Van der Poel usually is already up the road after three minutes of racing, there were still 20 riders in the lead group after three laps in Pont-Château. In this situation, World Cup leader Toon Aerts and Wout van Aert risked that there would be multiple riders finishing in between them, causing a decisive gap in the World Cup standings.
The duo tried to stay focused and rode near the front of the pack. That helped them during the fourth of 11 laps when they rode right behind Jens Adams (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice) and Michael Vanthourenhout when approaching one of the few technical obstacles, a series of wide steps. Most riders were able to hop these steps but that’s where Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions) faltered. He blocked the path for the rest of the lead group and the incident even took Joris Nieuwenhuis (Sunweb) out of the race due to a broken front wheel.
As a result, Adams, Vanthourenhout, Van Aert and Aerts were alone in front with a lead of 20 seconds on the large chase group. Somehow, Van der Haar believed in his chances and the Dutch riders started a long chase together with Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice) and Corné van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions). While Van der Haar and Sweeck managed to bridge up to the four leaders at the end of the sixth lap, Van Kessel never managed to close the final four seconds.
In the closing laps there were multiple accelerations but none proved successful. Van Aert reacted to every single move and afterwards he explained why that was.
"I had the disadvantage that I had to go for the victory with the eye on the World Cup. I had to react to everything because finishing ahead of Toon wasn’t enough to take over the lead. That made it a more difficult race but I managed to keep something for the final. I know that I’ve got a good sprint."
At the end of the penultimate lap, Aerts played his cards when going flat out after the stairs, and kept it up until the long climb and the the barriers at the top. Aerts hopped the stairs and barriers faster than the world champion and he collected a few seconds. The rest of the lead group seemed gone for good. However, on the long slightly uphill straightforward section towards the finish, Van Aert won the pursuit battle.
"I know that I was slightly better on the obstacles but they were too far away from the finish. It’s hard to stay away. Wout managed to close a gap of 5 to 6 seconds in no time," Aerts told Telenet Play Sports.
On the closing lap, the duo kept each other in check and Vanthourenhout managed to bridge back up. On the final set of barriers he surprised the duo and hopped past them into the lead. "I briefly thought about winning but when I had to stand up on the pedals in the following section I knew it wasn’t possible. I knew that I would be third," Vanthourenhout told Telenet Play Sports.
Van Aert led out the sprint, with Aerts hoping to be able to pass him in the final metres. "I know that Wout sprints better than me but I hoped to be able to get out of his wheel," Aerts said.
That didn’t happen. Van Aert dominated the sprint and won ahead of Aerts. Vanthourenhout was dead-empty and barely managed to hold off Lars van der Haar, who won the sprint for fourth place from Jens Adams and Laurens Sweeck. One minute later, David van der Poel was best of the rest. The older brother of Mathieu beat Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Bingoal), Van Kessel and Gianni Vermeersch (Steylaerts-777) in the sprint.
In the World Cup standings, Van Aert moves into the lead with 548 points, holding a lead of only three points over Aerts. "It’s a good situation to head to Hoogerheide. It’ll be close next week," Van Aert said.
Aerts knows what he has to do next week: finish ahead of Van Aert. "Today we started level on points and next week it’ll be the same. The one who finishes ahead of the other next week will win the World Cup. It’s good to have a close battle in this competition. Cross certainly isn’t dead yet," Aerts said.
Mathieu van der Poel remains in third place with 400 points which is one more than Vanthourenhout. Team-mates Lars van der Haar and Quinten Hermans are tight in fifth place with 390 points. Next week in Hoogerheide, they’ll be in the mix for that spot together with Sweeck (387) and Van Kessel (385).
|#||Rider Name (Country)||Result|
|1||Wout Van Aert (Bel)||1:04:34|
|2||Toon Aerts (Bel)||0:00:01|
|3||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel)||0:00:07|
|4||Lars Van Der Haar (Ned)||0:00:08|
|5||Jens Adams (Bel)|
|6||Laurens Sweeck (Bel)||0:00:11|
|7||David Van Der Poel (Ned)||0:01:15|
|8||Kevin Pauwels (Bel)|
|9||Corne Van Kessel (Ned)||0:01:16|
|10||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel)|
|11||Tim Merlier (Bel)||0:01:22|
|12||Gioele Bertolini (Ita)||0:01:23|
|13||Quinten Hermans (Bel)|
|14||Stan Godrie (Ned)||0:01:24|
|15||Thijs Aerts (Bel)|
|16||Francis Mourey (Fra)||0:01:26|
|17||Daan Soete (Bel)||0:01:29|
|18||Sieben Wouters (Ned)||0:01:33|
|19||David Menut (Fra)|
|20||Matthieu Boulo (Fra)||0:01:34|
|21||Michael Boroš (Cze)||0:01:40|
|22||Joshua Dubau (Fra)||0:01:46|
|23||Tom Meeusen (Bel)||0:01:52|
|24||Nicolas Cleppe (Bel)|
|25||Marcel Meisen (Ger)||0:01:55|
|26||Fabien Canal (Fra)||0:01:56|
|27||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel)||0:01:58|
|28||Steve Chainel (Fra)||0:02:01|
|29||Curtis White (USA)||0:02:05|
|30||Lucas Dubau (Fra)||0:02:20|
|31||Cristian Cominelli (Ita)||0:02:43|
|32||Jim Aernouts (Bel)||0:03:06|
|33||Gosse Van Der Meer (Ned)||0:03:14|
|34||Ismael Esteban Aguero (Spa)||0:03:20|
|35||Braam Merlier (Bel)||0:03:32|
|36||Jan Nesvadba (Cze)||0:03:44|
|37||Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibañez (Spa)||0:03:48|
|38||Diether Sweeck (Bel)||0:04:05|
|39||Yan Gras (Fra)||0:04:26|
|40||Vincent Baestaens (Bel)||0:04:29|
|41||Max Judelson (USA)||0:05:12|
|42||Ondrej Glajza (Svk)|
|43||Christopher Aitken (Aus)|
|44||Daniel Ania Gonzalez (Spa)|
|45||Andrew Juiliano (USA)|
|46||Philipp Heigl (Aut)|
|47||Niall Davis (Irl)|
|48||Garry Millburn (Aus)|
|49||Jose Antonio Diez Arriola (Spa)|
|50||Josh Bauer (USA)|
|51||Tyler Cloutier (USA)|
|DNF||Felipe Orts Lloret (Spa)|
|DNF||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned)|
|DNS||Asier Arregui Dominguez (Spa)|