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Tight margins expected as Van Aert and Van der Poel duel at Cyclo-cross Worlds

Belgian Wout Van Aert and Dutch Mathieu Van Der Poel pictured in action during the men elite race of the World Cup cyclocross in Dendermonde third stage out of five of the UCI World Cup competition in Dendermonde Sunday 27 December 2020 BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN Photo by DAVID STOCKMANBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Belgian national coach Sven Vanthourenhout believes Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel’s anticipated duel at the Cyclo-cross World Championships could come down to a two-up sprint like their battle at the Tour of Flanders last October.

Van der Poel edged out his Belgian rival on that occasion, and Van Aert will be eager to make amends on the North Sea coast on Sunday afternoon. Van Aert beat Van der Poel to the Overijse World Cup last weekend, but he has claimed that the Dutchman is the favourite to defend his title at the Worlds.

The pair have dominated cyclo-cross over the past six years, winning three world titles apiece, and the rivalry has since spread into the cobbled Classics. Speaking to Sporza, the Belgian national coach Vanthourenhout felt that Sunday’s race was too close to call.

“I think that question will remain unanswered until [the race finish at] 16.15," Vanthourenhout said. “The hippodrome is a bit drier than yesterday, so that’s better. But the beach remains as heavy as lead, so it will be a physical battle.”

Despite the presence of men like Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) and three-time world champion Zdenek Stybar, Vanthourenhout does not anticipate anybody disrupting the Van Aert-Van der Poel duopoly at the head of the race on the sandy course.

“After one passage through the beach section, we will already have the two men at the front who will fight it out among themselves," Vanthourenhout said. “I've had the feeling for a long time that today we'll get the fight we've been waiting for. A sprint like in the Tour of Flanders could also happen today.”

Van der Poel edged out Van Aert on that occasion, but the Dutchman knows the margins could be just as tight in Ostend. “We have been presented with a course where we can both do our thing," Van der Poel said earlier in the week. “I have the advantage on the horse racing track, while the bridge and beach will be better for Wout.”