The runway at the Koksijde air base gathered dust on Saturday afternoon during the second round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. A sand storm caused by several youngsters caused serious damage amongst the big boys. The generation is led by Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. The 20-year-old riders blew the race apart on Saturday putting the rest of the experienced field at distance in the deep, dry sand of Koksijde.
During the first laps of the race fellow men under-23 riders Laurens Sweeck and Toon Aerts were present in front of the pack. Van Aert eventually won the star-studded race after a long solo, Van der Poel was third, Sweeck eleventh and Aerts thirteenth.
After the race through the Koksijde dunes Van Aert and Van der Poel sat down in the press centre of the airbase to look back on their impressive rides but few journalists were present, possibly trying to find out what happened with Sven Nys (Crelan-AA-Drink).
“That’s a pity. I don’t know what happened with Nys but he’s very important for cyclo-cross. If he’s not winning it’s news too but I’m glad you are here. He’s ill, that’s what I read,” said Van Aert.
Van der Poel has been ill this week. He was unable to train on Tuesday and only decided shortly before the race to start. “Then I’m not performing too badly,” Van der Poel said. Van Aert smiled and added that he’s been ill too.
With their wins in Gieten and in the Koppenbergcross, the two riders were well aware that they have the weapons to fight with the best. As runner-up in Koksijde, Kevin Pauwels was also at the press conference and he heralded the performance of the duo. “On a course like this one I didn’t expect them to do this. I expected Nys or someone like him. I wasn’t able to pull this off when I was 20 years old. I wasn’t coming much closer after my attack. Wout was probably much stronger than me today,” Pauwels said.
Even when riding in the Junior Men category Van der Poel was already clocking faster lap times than the Elite Men. Despite their huge talent and recent performances the duo is realising that there’s much more work to be done. “We don’t have to talk nonsense. We know that on a good day we both can win in the elite men category. We no longer have to prove that we can keep up. What we do have to prove is that we can prove it every week. I’m not someone who’s focusing on particular races. I’d love to show consistency throughout the season,” Van der Poel said.
Next week the third round of the World Cup is held in Milton Keynes, UK and once again there’s no race in the men U23 category. Since the duo is winning against the assumed best riders in the world, it would make sense for them to stop riding in the youth categories. Once more racing in the elite men category wasn’t as obvious as it seemed, knowing that the day after Milton Keynes there’s the Bpost Bank Trophy round in Hamme.
“I’m going to focus on the World Cup but then in the under 23 category. I’m well placed in second in that series. I will also focus on the Bpost Bank Trophy series in the elite men category, where I’m fourth. That’s a nice goal. Apart from that I’ll focus on the championships too, like everyone else. It’s not easy to let go of some things but I’ve won two very fantastic races so I can take some risks,” Van Aert said.
“I’m not planning to reschedule my program halfway the season. It’s true that it’s going well but pride will have a fall. We have to be careful with our energy. The benefit of our age is that we can focus on particular races. The Koppenbergcross was a major goal and so was this race. It’s not good to evaluate the schedule shortly after a race, when you’re euphoric. We’ll look into it but for now it’s not the plan to change it,” Van Aert said.
Van der Poel agreed with his contemporary. “I’m not planning to ride any other World Cup with the Elite Men. As said before the season, I’m going to focus on the Superprestige series,” Van der Poel said. “This is not a changing of the guards. There’s clearly more competition and more battles but not anything more. I prefer to say that we’re merely peeping our head out.”
Both of these riders are clearly keeping their feet on the ground, and that during a sandstorm, avoiding making any harsh statements. That can only be applauded.