Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) claimed his first UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup victory since Pontchâteau in 2019, dominating in the sloppy ankle-deep mud in Dendermonde.
World champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) finished a distant second with Toon Aerts (Telenet-Baloise) in third.
Winter storm Bella had lashed Europe with heavy rain and high winds, forcing organisers to remove the flyover bridge from the course and, after the women sank knee-deep into a mud bog, further modified the course to remove the worst section.
There was still ample muck, cold rain and misery ahead for the riders over the hour-long race, however, with riders crashing through icy cold mud puddles and being forced to run more of the course than usual.
"It was really difficult cross," Van Aert said after winning by almost three minutes. "It didn't make much sense to use tactics, just keep up the pace. Apparently mine was much higher than the rest."
The gaps were the biggest of the season on such a heavy course, and Van Aert explained it was due to the uselessness of any race tactics.
"In Zolder we raced very tactically, while here everyone gave everything. That has to do with the course and not that I am so much better than the rest. But this is a confirmation that I am doing well."
Van der Poel took the hole shot but was overtaken in the melee by Quinten Hermans (Tormans). Van Aert moved quickly into third but had to overcome a first-lap clash with Corne van Kessel (Tormans) that lost him several positions.
Van Aert steadily worked his way back through the traffic and onto Van der Poel's wheel before coming to the front on the second lap and pulling his rival clear.
If bad luck cost the Dutchman in Herentals and Van Aert in Zolder, the Dendermonde course was strictly in Van Aert's favour. By the third lap it was clear that Van Aert had the better handle on the challenging course conditions and he began to forge an unassailable gap over Van der Poel.
Behind, the fight for the final podium position changed constantly, with Tom Pidcock (Trinity) losing ground after riding with the front group on the opening lap and eventually dropping out.
Aerts worked his way up through the chasers to move into third on the fourth lap.
By lap six, World Cup leader Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) emerged from the chasing group to challenge Aerts for the podium but couldn't quite get on terms.
Meanwhile, with the race one lap longer than humanly possible, darkness falling in the dismal weather, and only the bright yellow helmets of the Tormans riders visible in the mist, Van Aert had opened up a gap of 2:14 over Van der Poel as the bell rang for another miserable slog around the course.
Aerts, trying desperately to get some feeling back in his fingers, came across 18 seconds behind the world champion with a 16 second lead on Vanthourenhout.
There was no ground to be made up on the last lap, and Van Aert ended the day with 2:49 on Van Aert with Aerts third at 3:06. Vanthourenhout held on for fourth ahead of Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal).
The victory earned Van Aert the white and red jersey of overall World Cup leader.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma||1:06:10|
|2||Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix||0:02:49|
|3||Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Baloise Lions||0:03:06|
|4||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:03:42|
|5||Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:03:58|
|6||Corne van Kessel (Ned) Circus-Wanty Gobert||0:04:14|
|7||Quinten Hermans (Bel) Circus-Wanty Gobert||0:04:22|
|8||Pim Ronhaar (Ned) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:04:29|
|9||Thijs Aerts (Bel) Telenet Baloise Lions||0:04:49|
|10||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:05:04|
|11||Ben Turner (GBr) Trinity Racing||0:05:48|
|12||Thomas Mein (GBr) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team||0:06:04|
|13||Curtis White (USA)|
|14||Kevin Kuhn (Swi) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team||0:06:24|
|15||Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:06:32|
|16||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:06:37|
|17||Michael van den Ham (Can)||0:06:41|
|18||Tim van Dijke (Ned)||0:07:03|
|19||Yan Gras (Fra) AAA Sörius||0:07:18|
|20||Ryan Kamp (Ned) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:07:51|
|21||David van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix||0:08:07|
|22||Anton Ferdinande (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:08:22|
|23||Michael Boros (Cze)||0:08:29|
|24||Mees Hendrikx (Ned) Credishop-Fristads||0:08:41|
|25||Toon Vandebosch (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:09:01|
|26||Felipe Orts Lloret (Spa) Teika-BH-Gsport||0:09:20|
|27||Stan Godrie (Ned)||0:09:38|
|28||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Group Hens-Maes Containers||0:09:57|
|29||Sascha Weber (Ger)||0:10:04|
|30||Ivan Feijoo Alberte (Spa) Nesta-Skoda Alecar CX Team||0:10:12|
|31||Nicolas Samparisi (Ita) KTM Alchemist Powered by Brenta Brakes||0:10:17|
|32||Daan Soete (Bel) Group Hens-Maes Containers||0:10:18|
|33||Timon Ruegg (Swi)||0:10:38|
|34||Diether Sweeck (Bel) Credishop-Fristads|
|35||Jofre Cullell Estape (Spa)|
|36||Gilles Mottiez (Swi)|
|37||Mathieu Morichon (Fra)|
|38||Valentin Guillaud (Fra)|
|39||Steve Chainel (Fra) Cross Team Legendre|
|40||Mario Junquera San Millan (Spa)|
|41||Kyle Agterberg (Ned)|
|42||Mickaël Crispin (Fra) Cross Team Legendre|
|43||Hugo Jot (Fra) Ardennes Cross Team|
|44||Loic Bettendorff (Lux)|
|45||Joris Ryf (Swi)|
|46||Lucas Dubau (Fra)|
|47||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain McLaren|
|48||Joris Delbove (Fra) Team S1neo-Graal-Bjorka|
|49||Mats Wenzel (Lux)|
|50||Maik van der Heijden (Ned)|
|51||Lorenzo Samparisi (Ita) KTM Alchemist Powered by Brenta Brakes|
|52||Felix Stehli (Swi)|
|53||Jonathan Anderson (USA)|
|54||Cedric Pries (Lux)|
|55||Simon Vanicek (Cze)|
|56||David Conroy (Irl)|
|57||Jakub Riman (Cze)|
|58||Jules van Kempen (USA)|
|59||Andrew Giniat (USA)|
|60||Jakub Kurty (Svk)|
|DNF||Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Trinity Racing|
|DNF||Lars van der Haar (Ned) Telenet Baloise Lions|
|DNF||Joshua Dubau (Fra)|
|DNF||Marcel Meisen (Ger) Alpecin-Fenix|
|DNF||David Menut (Fra) Cross Team Legendre|
|DNF||Kevin Suarez Fernandez (Spa) Nesta-Skoda Alecar CX Team|
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