Mathieu van der Poel went into the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship to defend his title as the hot favourite, having won the last four World Cup rounds in a row, but after a mishap-filled race in Zolder the Dutch rider missed the podium, finishing fifth. His rival Wout Van Aert (Belgium) won the rainbow jersey with an impressive effort, having had to chase back to the front after tangling with Van der Poel halfway into the race.
Van der Poel had no excuses for why his incredible form left him at the most important moment. "I don't know why I had a bad day, I cannot blame myself - I had a good week of training and I felt like I was ready for it, but that's sport," he said to Sporza. "I am really disappointed, to be honest. I came here to win and during the final lap it difficult to even fight for third place."
In the first laps of the wet, muddy Zolder circuit, Van der Poel went clear with Van Aert and eventual silver medalist Lars van der Haar. Although he made the split, Van der Poel knew he was not having a good day. "When I was in front with Van Aert and Van der Haar, I did not pull through," he said.
"I was already at my limit, and knew I did not have the form of recent weeks. Then it becomes difficult to win this race."
Van der Poel might have been able to fake his way onto the podium were it not for a critical mistake on a tricky off-camber section of the course. He lost his momentum and had to step off the bike, but his foot went straight through the spokes of Van Aert's front wheel and took some time to dislodge.
"It was certainly not my intention to put my foot in Wout's wheel, because I lost myself the race," he said, but acknowledged that Van Aert's chase to catch and defeated Van der Haar. "It's impressive how Wout set that right. After this season, he is the deserved world champion."
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