Van Aert wins Azencross

World champion Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) appeared first from the fog in Loenhout, Belgium to win the sixth round of the DVV cyclo-cross trophy on Thursday. Cyclingnews' best cyclo-cross rider of 2016 strengthened his lead in the cyclo-cross series, winning ahead of local favourite Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games).

"I'm glad to have won," Van Aert told Sporza. "It was a very fast race and I took a bad start. Early on, it didn't seem like I would be in the mix for the trophies but I got into my rhythm and captured a nice victory."

Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) crashed hard during the penultimate lap and did not finish the race. "It was a stupid incident because he didn't have to take such a risk at that moment but you're in the heat of the moment and then things go wrong, especially on a course that features so many obstacles which makes risks even higher. That's might be a lesson to learn from," Van Aert said.

The Azencross in Loenhout is scheduled straight into the busiest weeks of the cyclo-cross season, in between Christmas and New Year's Day. The course in Loenhout is often spectacular as the organizers tend to spice it up with multiple artificial obstacles. The fog on the course added to the drama that unfolded on the fast, mostly dry course. A notable rider on the start line in Loenhout was former cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep). The Czech rider races an extremely short cyclo-cross campaign of two races: Loenhout and Bredene one day later.

Stybar showed himself straight from the start, moving up from a back-row start position into the top-10. "I saw some space to pass a few guys so I went for it. I knew I was going to pay the price for it. My body's not ready for this high speed," Stybar told Sporza.

Van Aert had a front-row start position but he was back in fifteenth place, and was still at the back when Van der Poel accelerated and split the group on the third lap. Van Aert finally made it to the group on lap four, but Van der Poel had vanished away into the fog, 11 seconds ahead.

After a three-lap chase, Van Aert finally closed the gap to Van der Poel, with Meeusen and Pauwels barely survived on his wheel. "That chase might've been nice to watch but it's very hard. It's not easy to drop someone here, certainly when you're riding at a steady pace. There were still some guys on my wheel but I could not let Mathieu ride away so I had to keep the pressure on. It was difficult," Van Aert said.

Once they caught Van der Poel, there was a regrouping with Kevin Pauwels, Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games), Toon Aerts and Corne Van Kessel bridging up. The pace dropped again and that's when the drama unfolded. Aerts moved to the front with teammate Meeusen riding in second place. The latter sat up to give his teammate an advantage. Van der Poel realized what was going on and tried to pass Meeusen in a twisting section, hitting a quick descent at high speed and briefly catching air, losing control of his rear wheel crashing hard on his right side. At first sight, the crash didn't seem serious, but the Dutch rider remained on the ground on the course. An ambulance team, father Adrie van der Poel and manager Christophe Roodhooft were quickly on the ground to look after him.

Afterwards Meeusen felt awkward about what happened. "I want to apologize to Mathieu. I wanted to offer a gap to Toon. Mathieu passed me at such a high speed that I was surprised. Of course Mathieu wanted to get between Toon and myself, that's why he flew over the climb," Meeusen told Sporza.

Van Aert was a first-hand witness. "It was obvious Tom was trying to offer Toon a gap. Mathieu was too enthusiastic to try and block the attempt. When he crashed I saw straight away that it was painful. If you stay on the ground it's never a good sign," Van Aert said.

In the meantime the rest of the riders continued their race. Aerts was unable to hold on to his small lead. Van Aert took over the command in the final lap with Meeusen, Vanthourenhout, Aerts, Pauwels and Van Kessel right behind him. In the only muddy section Meeusen went sideways and Van Aert was suddenly alone in front. He flawlessly tackled all the obstacles and won the race.

As he crossed the line Van der Poel was taken away on the stretcher. Meeusen fought back from his early mishap in the lap and captured second place. Pauwels beat Aerts - again - in the sprint for third place.

The penultimate round in the DVV Trophy is held on New Year's Day in Baal, Belgium. Van Aert leads comfortably in the time-based general classification over Pauwels by 2:39. Vanthourenhout is third at 3:33.

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Wout Van Aert (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice1:01:33
2Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions0:00:02
3Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games0:00:03
4Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions0:00:06
5Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games0:00:11
6Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Telenet Fidea Lions0:00:22
7Clément Venturini (Fra) Cofidis0:00:41
8Jens Adams (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice0:00:55
9Jim Aernouts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions0:01:01
10Tim Merlier (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice0:01:12
11Laurens Sweeck (Bel) ERA-Circus0:01:22
12Wietse Bosmans (Bel) Beobank-Corendon0:01:30
13Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Beobank-Corendon0:02:12
14Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Team Steylaerts0:02:13
15Boy Van Poppel (Ned)0:02:15
16Rob Peeters (Bel) Crelan-Vastgoedservice0:02:16
17Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games0:02:19
18Zdenek Stybar (Cze)0:02:24
19Lars Van Der Haar (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin0:02:37
20Yorben Van Tichelt (Bel) Marlux-Napoleon Games0:03:30
21Julien Taramarcaz (Swi) ERA-Circus0:03:31
22Philipp Walsleben (Ger) Beobank-Corendon0:03:32
23Michael Boros (Cze) ERA-Circus0:03:41
24Jens Vandekinderen (Bel) Kalas-NNOF0:03:56
25Marek Konwa (Pol)0:04:42
26Jan Denuwelaere (Bel)0:05:25
27Dario Tielen (Bel)0:05:26
28Kevin Cant (Bel) ERA-Circus0:05:37
29Stijn Huys (Bel)0:06:00

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