Michael Vanthourenhout wins Namur World Cup

Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) took the biggest win of his career at Namur in the Cyclo-cross World Cup round 11. 

The Belgian rider was joined by Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) in the battle for victory before the British champion suffered two heavy crashes giving his rival a gap which grew. 

However, it was Toon Aerts (Baloise Trek Lions) who had led the first half of the race until Pidcock bridged across with Vanthourenhout. 

Aerts punctured immediately after being caught and lost almost 30 seconds to the leaders before changing his bike and placing third place. 

It was the first World Cup win of the season for former under-23 world champion Vanthourenhout and one he says is the biggest. 

“This is the biggest victory of my career, it’s beautiful,” said Vanthourenhout. “I felt at the beginning I was very strong and at the end I believed in myself. I saw Tom (Pidcock) was strong on the uphill sections but in the off-camber section I was maybe the strongest in the race and that gave me a boost to give it all. I didn’t see it (Pidcock’s crash) but I focussed on myself and I was just fully focused for the victory." 

After winning the previous day’s World Cup round in Rucphen, Pidcock said he had nothing left in the final laps at Namur. 

“Mistakes and I think the tank was empty today," said Pidcock. “I didn’t feel the same as yesterday. It was there and then with a lap and a half to go and after that last mistake then I couldn’t even push any more. 

“It was gone and Michael (Vanthourenhout) did a fantastic race.  Toon (Aerts) set off like he was on fire and I thought then the race was already over. He (Aerts) set off so fast and had 30 seconds and then suddenly within one lap we were back with him. 

“It was a strange race, in some ways I think it’s good that I finished second as it shows I still have quite a lot of work to do. It shows I can’t back-up two days yet. It’s OK.” 

Pidcock had been leading the race from Vanthourenhout with just over two laps remaining before crashing on an off-camber section handing his Belgian competitor the lead. 

“I don’t even remember what happened,” added Pidcock.  “I’m a bit out of it now. Maybe I was just going a bit too fast and then I was trying to push for the gap on Michael (Vanthourenhout) and I was just pushing a bit too hard. And then it all caught up with me a little bit." 

World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) finished in fifth over two minutes behind the winner but maintains a healthy lead in the series heading into the 12th round at Dendermonde on Boxing Day. 

How it unfolded

The technical course of Namur greeted riders for round 11 of the cyclo-cross World Cup with the infamous off-camber descent ready to catch riders out. 

Despite taking his first elite World Cup win the previous day in Rucphen, Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) had to battle his way from the third row of the grid after missing the early season races. 

The climb from the start included a cobbled section before narrowing on a steep section towards the top. 

Leading the early charge was Quinten Hermans (Tormans-Circus Cyclo Cross Team) while Toon Aerts (Baloise Trek Lions) was in close attendance on the opening sections. 

Pidcock’s effort to move forward on the opening section was delayed by the need for a bike change after three minutes of racing before also tangling with other competitors. 

Entering the first full lap Aerts was allowed a small gap after a problem for Hermans and the Belgian attacked using his power to go clear. 

Aerts had three podium finishes in the last four years at Namur and was showing his strength on the opening lap. 

Under the pressure of chasing Aerts the chasing group started to split with Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) powering through on the climb. 

After the first full lap Aerts led by 15 seconds by Vanthourenhout who was joined by Pidcock and Hermans attacking up the gruelling climbs. 

Aerts had finished sixth at Rucphen the previous day on a fast course not suited to his power but in Namur he continued his pace and increased his margin to 24 seconds ahead of Hermans who had gapped his fellow chasers. 

Olympic mountain bike champion Pidcock quickly responded and powered across the gap to Hermans while further back Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) was suffering further back. 

On the third lap Aerts hit a tree root on a steep descent and came down heavily seeing his leading margin reduced to 13 seconds as Pidcock took over the pacing from Hermans. 

Hermans was the next rider to faulter in the treacherous conditions breaking his shoe after tangling with the course netting and falling down the field. 

That left Pidcock chasing alone while Vanthourenhout remained in the podium fight back in third. 

The British champion recorded the fastest lap of the race at the midway point and had Aerts in his sights on the straight climb back up to the Citadel with the gap falling. 

After 34 minutes of racing Pidcock made the bridge across to Aerts who immediately suffered a puncture handing the British rider the lead but with Vanthourenhout chasing seconds back. 

With three laps remaining Pidcock was joined at the front by Vanthourenhout while Aerts had lost 26 seconds with a flat tyre. 

Using his road racing form Pidcock used his power on the steep Namur climb to gap Vanthourenhout once more in a bid to lead alone. 

However, once again Vanthourenhout used his speed out of the corners and the slippery descents to draw level at the front. 

The infamous off-camber decent had caused riders a host of problems and Pidock was its next victim sliding out but staying with his Belgian competitor in a pivotal moment. 

Entering the penultimate lap Vanthourenhout was putting pressure on Pidcock while Aerts was chasing 31 seconds behind. 

The Ineos Grenadiers rider crashed again on a slippery descent losing 14 seconds and would not regain ground on Vanthourenhout again. 

On the same descent but taking a different line Aerts was the next rider to hit the floor in third place. 

Taking the ball alone Vanthourenhout led by 12 seconds from Pidcock while Aerts was a further 27 seconds back. 

The Belgian extended his gap to 26 seconds on the final lap and survived a slip on the off-camber descent. 

Pidcock had given everything in the battle for victory but was to be beaten as the Belgian fans celebrated a home win. 

The British rider finished second 36 seconds behind while Aerts completed the podium in third at 51 seconds. 

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Brief Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal 0:59:28
2Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:36
3Toon Aerts (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions 0:00:51
4Quinten Hermans (Bel) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team 0:01:38
5Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal 0:02:01
6Daan Soete (Bel) CX Team Deschacht-group Hens-containers Maes 0:02:06
7Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal 0:02:15
8Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team 0:02:40
9Joshua Dubau (Fra) Massi 0:02:44
10Timon Ruegg (Swi) Cross Team Legendre 0:02:46

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