Cyclo-cross World Championships: Mathieu van der Poel cruises to third world title

Mathieu van der Poel gave a muddy one-man show in Dübendorf, Switzerland, on Sunday, successfully defending the rainbow jersey and claiming the third cyclo-cross world title of his career. 

The Dutchman, who also won in 2015, was the overwhelming favourite but the way he stamped his authority on proceedings made it seem he was in a different race to the rest of the field. 

He sprinted straight from the gun, stretching out the field, and by the end of the first lap he was alone with a lead of 15 seconds. That only grew and grew as he ticked off the remaining six laps of the muddy Swiss circuit, and he raised his arms almost a minute-and-a-half before anyone else had crossed the line. 

Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) claimed the silver medal with the best performance of his debut campaign in the elites, riding away from a chase group that once comprised five Belgians. Toon Aerts emerged as the best of them to take the bronze medal, while Wout Van Aert had to settle for fourth after a late puncture.

"I think I rode a perfect race," Van der Poel said. "I Felt really strong and when I managed to get away on the first lap, that gave me wings."

How it unfolded

Van der Poel dominated the cyclo-cross season after coming off a short mountain bike season, winning all but one of his races. Nevertheless, the tough racing circumstances near Zürich created some hope among his rivals.

Overnight rain turned the green pastures at the military air base into a mud bath. If the countless short run-ups and fly-overs on the Swiss course weren’t enough to make for a demanding race, the 39 riders at the start were treated with stormy weather when they lined up at 2:30pm. As well as Aerts, the front row featured Belgians Eli Iserbyt, Michael Vanthourenhout, Quinten Hermans, and Laurens Sweeck, along with two other Dutchmen in Lars van der Haar and Corné van Kessel.

Van der Poel managed the hole shot and led Aerts, Iserbyt, Tim Merlier (Belgium), Vanthourenhout and Hermans into the first muddy stretches. Wout van Aert (Belgium) featured just outside the top-10, together with British protagonist Pidcock.

It rained when the race got underway but the 25 year-old Dutch ace didn’t mind. He took the best start and only Aerts was briefly able to keep up. Half a lap later, Aerts already paid the price for trying to keep up and Van der Poel was gone for good. His lead grew up to nearly two minutes and he only then his shifted back during the final lap.

"It was harder when it stopped raining, actually, because then the mud dried up a little bit; it got even harder to ride through. It would’ve been better if it just kept on raining," Van der Poel said.

After nearly 69 minutes of racing, the best rider of the season had more than enough time to celebrate his third cyclo-cross world title. A mud-clad Van der Poel stopped at the finish line, stepped off his bike and put his vehicle in front of him, showing a big smile and making a gracious salute. 

"I expected it to break up early because the course was really tough. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. Especially in those last laps, the bridges were nearly too hard to get up," Van der Poel said.

"It was a very honest race. The strongest riders were in front immediately and that’s a good thing at a world championship."

Van der Poel only had company on the first half of the first lap

Van der Poel only had company on the first half of the first lap (Image credit: Bettini Images)

Eighty seconds behind the winner, Pidcock captured the silver medal, holding off a big stack of Belgian riders. The former cyclo-cross world champion in the Junior and  U23 categories surprised the Belgian riders with a fierce acceleration on the third of seven laps. His arch rival from the youth categories, Eli Iserbyt, tried to keep up but blew up his engine and tumbled away from the fight for the two final podium spots, eventually finishing 10th at more than five minutes from Van der Poel. 

Pidcock successfully held off some big names during the second half of the race. Toon Aerts and Wout van Aert came close but had to bow to the 20-year-old British rider.

"I’m second-best in the world of cyclo-cross today. I would say I’m second-best in the world but sometimes I’m not," Pidcock laughed. 

"It’s unreal. Mathieu is one of the best riders in the world. I was second to him today. That’s incredible. I stepped up to the elite’s this season. I could’ve made it an easy time for myself by racing in the U23s but I’ve come to ride with the elites and I got onto the podium. It’s really pleasing," Pidcock told Sporza.

After a good start from the second row, Pidcock ended up riding in the chase group with five Belgian riders during the third lap of the race.

"That’s why I wanted to attack - I didn't think it would be a good place for me to ride against five Belgians overworking me," PIdcock explained. 

"It’s strange because I was ill all week. On Tuesday I woke up poorly so I barely rode all week. Maybe that did me good. Maybe I should get ill more often."

At a handful seconds from Pidcock, Aerts profited from a late puncture for triple world champion Wout van Aert to take the final podium spot, repeating his third place from last year in Bogense, Denmark. Van Aert was disappointed about the result, even though he wasn’t expected to perform to the best of his abilities due to the long recovery from his crash at last year's Tour de France. 

Belgian champion Laurens Sweeck was fifth at 2:32, ahead of Michael Vanthourenhout and Corné van Kessel. Belgian road champion Tim Merlier didn’t find a course that suited his abilities and, after an early crash, he finished eighth, ahead of Quinten Hermans and Iserbyt.

Next year, the UCI cyclo-cross world championships will be contested in Ostend, Belgium.


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Full Results
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) 1:08:52
2Thomas Pidcock (Great Britain) 0:01:20
3Toon Aerts (Belgium) 0:01:45
4Wout Van Aert (Belgium) 0:02:04
5Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) 0:02:32
6Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) 0:03:12
7Corne Van Kessel (Netherlands) 0:03:52
8Tim Merlier (Belgium) 0:04:32
9Quinten Hermans (Belgium) 0:04:48
10Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) 0:05:11
11Lars Van der Haar (Netherlands) 0:05:56
12Joris Nieuwenhuis (Netherlands) 0:07:02
13Timon Rüegg (Switzerland) 0:07:18
14Felipe Orts Lloret (Spain) 0:07:58
15David Van der Poel (Netherlands) 0:08:22
16Stephen Hyde (United States Of America) 0:08:32
17Steve Chainel (France) 0:08:45
18Curtis White (United States Of America) 0:08:47
19Sascha Weber (Germany) 0:08:49
20Stan Godrie (Netherlands) 0:09:02
21Simon Zahner (Switzerland) 0:09:35
22Nicola Rohrbach (Switzerland) 0:10:11
23David Menut (France)
24Michael Van den Ham (Canada)
25Sieben Wouters (Netherlands)
26Kerry Werner (United States Of America)
27Kevin Suarez Fernandez (Spain)
28Jan Nesvadba (Czech Republic)
29Lukas Flückiger (Switzerland)
30Nicolas Samparisi (Italy)
31Cristian Cominelli (Italy)
32Emil Hekele (Czech Republic)
33Michael Boroš (Czech Republic)
34Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland)
35Simon Vozar (Slovakia)
36Ondrej Glajza (Slovakia)
37Cameron Jette (Canada)
DNFMarcel Meisen (Germany)
DNFGoran Cerovic (Montenegro)

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