Van Aert takes emotional World Championship victory

In what must’ve been the most entertaining cyclo-cross race of the season Wout Van Aert (Belgium) fought back from mid-race mishap to capture the rainbow jersey on home soil in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. Van Aert was able to shake off Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) at the final climb and finish solo on the former F1 car racing circuit in front of thousands of fans. Defending World champion Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) sat up just before the finish while riding in third place and he was passed by Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) and veteran Sven Nys (Belgium). Nys rode his final World championships race.

It was an emotional winner who topped the podium and listened to the Brabançonne, flanked by Van der Haar and Pauwels. It’s the first World title in the elite men category for 21 year-old Van Aert.

“Nothing compares to this feeling. Last year’s defeat is forgotten now,” Van Aert said in the post-race interview with Sporza.

The top favourites were on show straight from the start with Van der Poel, Van Aert and Van der Haar blasting away from the rest of the field in the opening lap. Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic) was the first chaser at more than ten seconds. Outsider Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) was twenty seconds down on the three leaders but, out numbered, Van Aert went to the front and slowed up so that several more riders were able to bridge back up. Halfway through the eight-lap race there were ten riders in contention for the rainbow jersey.

That’s when an incident with the top favourites blew the race apart. Van der Haar led towards the difficult off-camber section when Van der Poel moved in front of Van Aert. But the defending champion failed to get up the first uphill corner and hopped off his bike, stepping into the front wheel of Van Aert. It took some time before the duo got going again. Meanwhile Van der Haar accelerated away in front, leaving Pauwels, Nys and the others behind. Van der Haar was in for a long solo ride with the Belgian fans showing their worst side, throwing beer cups at the Dutch rider.

“Beer? Yes and spit. That’s no fun because you don’t want to head home with hepatitis B. I had cups thrown at me all over the place. There was so much booing that I realized they were afraid,” Van der Haar said, smiling.

Meanwhile the unlucky duo behind him was reacting in different ways after the incident. Van der Poel quickly made a few more mistakes was suddenly half a minute behind Van der Haar. Van Aert switched to fighting mode and blasted forward.

“I was surprised that Mathieu closed the door before the off-camber section. I have to thank him. Because I got stuck in his wheel I finally got into my rhythm. Merci Mathieu,” Van Aert said about the incident. “I tried to take my time to get into the rhythm and bridged up with Laurens Sweeck who brought me back to the front. It’s in my character never to give up. I don’t race to sit up after five laps.“

Van der Poel rode in eighth place before his strong-riding brother David, who tried to tow him back to the front. “I came here to win but I made a mistake. Of course I didn’t have the intention to stand on his wheel. It ruined my own race. After the incident it took me too long to fight back. I can’t remember when Wout passed me. I didn’t have a great day and then it’s hard to win the race. During the final lap it was hard for me to fight for third place. I came for the title. Wout is the well-deserved winner. Hopefully he’ll be my rival for the coming years,” Mathieu van der Poel said.

Van der Haar entered the penultimate lap with a lead of twelve seconds on Van Aert. The 24 year-old Dutch rider realized he was in for two hard laps. “I had a good gap but then the gap wasn’t growing and then a strong rider was coming closer. I rode at a pace that I could maintain but not increase. I decided to recover so that I could answer his acceleration,” Van der Haar said. Halfway through the penultimate lap Van der Haar took a clean bike to get ready for the fight.

“He’s not an easy rival. At the European championships I was beaten by Lars. I felt really strong at the back-end of the course. In Spain I trained really hard on that short steep climb,” Van Aert said.

The duo hit the final lap with a gap of 17 seconds on Mathieu van der Poel who briefly found the spirit to fight back, riding ahead of Nys and Pauwels. The gap briefly dropped to 13 seconds but then the duo started their engines and Van der Poel sat up.

Van Aert tried to set a fast pace but Van der Haar was glued to his wheel. At the dangerous descent the Dutch rider managed to pass the Belgian champion, heading to the run-up that favoured Van Aert in first position. On the last part of the running section Van Aert took big strides to pass Van der Haar and on the following climb the race was decided. Both riders were unable to ride to the top but Van Aert had a small gap on Van der Haar.

“He surprised me in the descent which I didn’t expect. But I still had a chance in the running section. On the climb I had to hop off the bike and thought I lost it, but when I looked it was enough to get the last bit of power out of my legs, thinking that I couldn’t give this away. It was a fight until the end,” Van Aert said.

On the climb that suited Van der Haar to perfection he suddenly wondered why he wasn’t moving forward. “My mistake was that I was on the big ring on the final climb. You see me looking down, wondering what was going on and then I see the chain on the big ring. That bothers me most. I don’t know if I would’ve beaten him. I’m proud that I rode the race what I wanted to race. It’s a stupid mistake. I clicked but maybe not enough and it wasn’t on the small ring. It’s a crucial error,” Van der Haar said.

Van Aert powered away while a defeated Van der Haar no longer pushed on, rolling in for second place. Van der Poel didn’t fancy third place and he was passed by Nys and Pauwels. The latter won the battle for third place which was the best possible result on a rainy Sunday afternoon. “It was never possible. I felt early on that I wasn’t super. That’s what you need on a day like today. It was hard straight from the start. It wasn’t easy today. It’s hard, especially at the championships they ride really hard,” Pauwels said.

A few seconds later Nys crossed the line while taking his time to thank the crowd and celebrate a strong ride. Afterwards an emotional Nys talked to Sporza. “I didn’t think I would be emotional but when I saw Paul [Van den Bosch, coach] it happened. I was beaten on the steep climb but I’m very happy with my performance. A fourth place in this field at my age. There’s no better way to end my career,” Nys said. The 39 year-old cyclo-cross legend rode his final World championships race.

Mathieu van der Poel and David van der Poel were fifth and sixth. Laurens Sweeck and Tom Meeusen finished in front of the first non-Belgian and non-Dutch rider, Radomir Simunek. Marcel Meisen (Germany) closed out the top-10. Former cyclo-cross world champion Lars Boom (Netherlands) rode a strong race and finished fourteenth.

Next year the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships are held in Luxembourg.

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Wout Van Aert (Belgium)1:05:52
2Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands)0:00:05
3Kevin Pauwels (Belgium)0:00:35
4Sven Nys (Belgium)0:00:39
5Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands)0:00:47
6David Van Der Poel (Netherlands)0:01:03
7Laurens Sweeck (Belgium)0:01:11
8Tom Meeusen (Belgium)0:01:23
9Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic)0:01:37
10Marcel Meisen (Germany)0:01:43
11Clement Venturini (France)0:02:01
12Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium)0:02:15
13Stan Godrie (Netherlands)0:02:28
14Lars Boom (Netherlands)0:02:37
15Francis Mourey (France)0:02:43
16Michael Boros (Czech Republic)0:02:46
17Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands)Row 16 - Cell 2
18Corne Van Kessel (Netherlands)0:02:50
19Philipp Walsleben (Germany)0:03:00
20Steve Chainel (France)0:03:08
21Sascha Weber (Germany)0:03:15
22Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland)0:03:21
23Stephen Hyde (United States Of America)0:03:31
24Simon Zahner (Switzerland)Row 23 - Cell 2
25Niels Wubben (Netherlands)0:03:40
26Tim Merlier (Belgium)0:03:43
27Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez (Spain)0:03:56
28Ian Field (Great Britain)0:04:04
29Martin Haring (Slovakia)0:04:26
30Lukas Winterberg (Switzerland)0:04:29
31Lars Forster (Switzerland)0:04:46
32Ismael Esteban Aguando (Spain)0:05:10
33Severin Saegesser (Switzerland)0:05:28
34Jeremy Powers (United States Of America)0:05:29
35Yannick Eckmann (United States Of America)0:06:45
36Chris Jongewaard (Australia)0:07:00
37Liam Killeen (Great Britain)0:07:04
38Garry Millburn (Australia)0:07:13
39Travis Livermon (United States Of America)0:07:14
40Aaron Schooler (Canada)Row 39 - Cell 2
41Allen Krughoff (United States Of America)0:07:39
42Jeremy Martin (Canada)-1 Lap
43Anthony Clark (United States Of America)Row 42 - Cell 2
44Christian Helmig (Luxembourg)Row 43 - Cell 2
45Michael Van Den Ham (Canada)Row 44 - Cell 2
46Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg)Row 45 - Cell 2
47Kenneth Hansen (Denmark)-2 Laps
48Mariusz Gil (Poland)Row 47 - Cell 2
49David Fletcher (Great Britain)Row 48 - Cell 2
50Angus Edmond (New Zealand)Row 49 - Cell 2
51Cameron Jette (Canada)Row 50 - Cell 2
52Martin Eriksson (Sweden)Row 51 - Cell 2
53Fredrik Haraldseth (Norway)Row 52 - Cell 2
54Hikaru Kosaka (Japan)Row 53 - Cell 2
55Yu Takenouchi (Japan)Row 54 - Cell 2
56Jeremy Durrin (United States Of America)Row 55 - Cell 2
57Mark McConnell (Canada)-3 Laps
58Karl Heinz Gollinger (Austria)Row 57 - Cell 2
59Philipp Heigl (Austria)Row 58 - Cell 2


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