Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) won the first round of the 2018-19 UCI cyclocross World Cup, soloing away from the world champion Wout Van Aert two laps from the end of the race.
Van Aert finished second, 34 seconds back, while Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice) grabbed the final podium spot, 51 seconds behind Aerts.
"When you win the first race of the classification you take the jersey," Aerts said. "So it's the first time I've ever had the white jersey in my career and so I'm looking forward to next week.
"On the last lap when I came up the running point pretty good I knew it was almost there for the victory. It was my weakest point - I didn't know what was wrong there. So coming up on the last lap I knew I had to make no mistakes so I was fine."
Meanwhile, runner-up and two-time World Cup Van Aert was upbeat despite his defeat. The Belgian pointed out that he now has a nice headstart on eternal rival Mathieu van der Poel, who didn't race here.
"Of course its mixed feelings," he said. "When you're a three-time world champion everybody expects that you win every race. So do I and yeah it was a pity that I wasn't able to win.
"Today Toon was a bit stronger, and in the final three laps I wasn't able to follow his pace. So he's a deserved winner and I'm happy that I have a good position now in the World Cup standings."
It was a race of attrition around the technical, twisting circuit at the Trek headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin. The weather was a reasonable 21 degrees Celsius cooler than last year's heatwave, though the grass and dirt route was again largely dry and dusty.
Still, it was no trouble for the lead group of nine Belgian and Dutchmen who assembled early on in the race. Van Aert was there, of course, and without his big rival Mathieu van der Poel he was the odds-on favourite to win, despite his recent contract troubles.
The group whittling down as the race went on, thanks to crashes and riders dropping away. Telenet Fidea Lions had the numerical advantage with four up front in the early laps, but midway through the race it was down to the two 24-year-olds Van Aert and Aerts, with Sweeck (also 24) chasing alone.
Lap seven saw the decisive move of the race go, with Aerts leaving Van Aert behind at the beginning of the lap. It would be the winning move, with the world champion having no answer for the Telenet Fidea man.
How it unfolded
A lead group of nine riders - eight Belgians and a Dutchman - established themselves towards the end of the first lap. Unsurprisingly Wout Van Aert, riding with WVA on his jersey instead of his regular sponsors but officially representing Crelan-Charles, was there.
The other men joining him were Laurens Sweeck, Daan Soete (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice), Eli Iserbyt, Michael Vanthourenhout (both Marlux-Bingoal) and Corne Van Kessel, Quinten Hermans, Toon Aerts, Jim Aernouts (all Telenet Fidea Lions).
On lap three Van Aert took to the head of the group, pushing the pace a little with Aernouts and Vanthourenhout dropping from the back. With three of their men still in the lead group, it was no surprise to see Telenet Fidea try a few moves - Hermans took it up at the front midway through lap three. By the end of the lap the leaders were 20 seconds up on the chasers.
Soete took it up on lap four, putting the pressure on those at the rear of the group. His own teammate Sweeck dropped back after faltering on the barriers, while Iserbyt and Van Kessel were gapped at the end of the lap, leaving four men up front.
Midway through lap five Sweeck hit the deck, sliding out on a corner. Behind him, Hermans had nowhere to go and somersaulted over Soete's bike. Now it was just Van Aert and Aerts in the lead, with Sweeck emerging as a sole chaser some ten seconds back.
At the start of lap seven, Aerts seized his chance and went for it. Van Aert didn't have an immediate response, and there wasn't much sign of a delayed reaction either. By the end of the lap, the world champion was 11 seconds behind Aerts.
Heading into the final lap, the podium seemed set - barring a crash - with Van Aert falling to 15 seconds back and Sweeck comfortable riding alone 43 seconds back. Things wouldn't change though - the 2016 European cyclocross champion Aerts took his first career World Cup victory, showing off his Trek bike for the cameras after crossing the line.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||1:02:49|
|2||Wout Van Aert (Bel)||0:00:34|
|3||Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservic||0:00:51|
|4||Quinten Hermans (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:00:54|
|5||Daan Soete (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice||0:00:55|
|6||Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:08|
|7||Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Marlux - Bingoal||0:01:14|
|8||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:27|
|9||Tim Merlier (Bel)||0:01:36|
|10||Michael Boroš (Cze) Creafin Tüv Sud||0:01:44|
|10||Michael Boroš (Cze)||1:04:33|
|11||Steve Chainel (Fra)||1:04:43|
|12||Kevin Pauwels (Bel)||1:04:53|
|13||Diether Sweeck (Bel)||1:05:13|
|14||Matthieu Boulo (Fra)||1:05:19|
|15||Tom Meeusen (Bel)||1:05:24|
|16||Thijs Aerts (Bel)||1:05:31|
|17||Jens Adams (Bel)||1:05:36|
|18||Lars Van Der Haar (Ned)||1:05:56|
|19||Fabien Canal (Fra)||1:06:01|
|20||Nicolas Cleppe (Bel)||1:06:05|
|21||Stan Godrie (Ned)||1:06:13|
|22||Kerry Werner (USA)||1:06:18|
|23||Curtis White (USA)||1:06:20|
|24||Sieben Wouters (Ned)||1:06:21|
|25||Cody Kaiser (USA)||1:06:44|
|26||James Driscoll (USA)||1:06:52|
|27||Ian Field (GBr)||1:07:02|
|28||Anthony Clark (USA)||1:07:07|
|29||Michael Van Den Ham (Can)||1:07:41|
|30||Tobin Ortenblad (USA)||1:07:42|
|31||Allen Krughoff (USA)||1:07:45|
|32||Eric Thompson (USA)||1:07:59|
|33||Bjorn Selander (USA)||1:08:06|
|34||Alois Falenta (Fra)||1:08:14|
|35||Gunnar Holmgren (Can)||1:08:16|
|36||Grant Ellwood (USA)||1:08:40|
|37||Lance Haidet (USA)||1:08:46|
|38||Eric Brunner (USA)||1:09:02|
|39||Jack Kisseberth (USA)||1:10:04|
|40||Craig Richey (Can)|
|41||Trevor O'donnell (Can)|
|42||Garry Millburn (Aus)|
|43||Isaac Niles (Can)|
|44||Jarno Trey (Est)|
|DNF||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel)|
|DNF||Justin Lindine (USA)|
|DNF||Stephen Hyde (USA)|
|DNF||Andrew Dillman (USA)|