World champion Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) won a hard-fought mud duel against Belgian champion Toon Aerts to take the win at the sixth UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup round of the season at the citadel of Namur, Belgium.
The spectacular setting, rain, mud, ice water and a much-discussed newly introduced twisting descent followed by a long pavé climb were the spicy ingredients for a real 'cross mud-fest.
British champion Thomas Pidcock (Trinity Racing) narrowly missed out on his first World Cup podium. Corné van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions) profited late in the race from a crash and broken seat post from Pidcock to snatch away the final podium spot in Namur.
During the build-up to the race, Mathieu and father Adrie van der Poel weren't holding back their criticism about the tweaks that were introduced by the course designer, triple world champion Erwin Vervecken.
That criticism wasn't gone after the race but Mathieu was proud about his achievement in Namur. "It was really cold," a shivering Mathieu van der Poel told Telenet Play Sports TV in the flash interview. "It was hard to remain flawless today. Twice I had to ride for a long time with a puncture which cost a lot of energy and time. The rider who made the least mistakes would be close to the victory."
The circumstances reminded to those at the Yorkshire road world championships only a few months ago, when Mathieu van der Poel dramatically bonked while riding in the lead group that fought for the world title. "Don't bring up Yorkshire, please," Van der Poel said, laughingly.
"When I just started racing I was really cold over here, too. It reminded me about that. Normally you're cold on your hands and feet but during the race, I started getting cold throughout my body; that says enough."
The circumstances were really difficult and some riders struggled massively with the cold. World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) was forced to abandon halfway through the race.
Meanwhile, Iserbyt's major rival in the World Cup, Toon Aerts, was going well at the very front of the race. He was the only rider who was able to react on a first acceleration from Van der Poel during the opening lap. The duo led the race ahead of fast-starter Corné van Kessel.
After the opening lap, Pidcock wasn't even riding inside the top-10. The young British rider steadily moved up through the field, including a well-performing Belgian road champion Tim Merlier (Creafin-Fristads), joining Van Kessel at the end of the third lap.
Van der Poel punctured a first time during the second lap and Aerts powered away. The World champion needed nearly two laps to bridge back up to the impressive Belgian champion. Despite the accelerations in front, Pidcock and Van Kessel were still 'only' 23 seconds down on the leaders after three laps.
A test of strength followed but Van der Poel nor Aerts was unable to prevail in the following two laps. During the sixth lap, Van der Poel seemed to reach out to the victory. He rode away shortly after the famous off-camber descent - less decisive this year - and increased his lead in the running section that followed.
The race seemed decided but then Van der Poel punctured again. Suddenly, the race turned around as Aerts regained belief and stormed by a tired Van der Poel. When hitting the penultimate lap, Aerts enjoyed a lead of 18 seconds over Van der Poel and nearly a minute over Pidcock.
Cold and wet takes its toll
Halfway through the penultimate lap, the race turned around again. Aerts crashed and landed into a pool of ice water. Van der Poel profited and bridged back up. The duo Aerts and Van der Poel hit the final lap together with a gap of 39 seconds over Pidcock and 1:05 over Van Kessel.
Suddenly, the twisting descent which had been navigated seemingly flawlessly throughout the race decided the race. Van der Poel was leading the way but behind him, Aerts lost his balance and crashed hard against a pole. He needed a lot of time to recover.
"My first crash wasn't hard but I was no longer able to shake off the cold and that's why I crashed again," Aerts said. Van der Poel made no more mistakes and rode to a hard-fought fourth Namur victory. Aerts clearly struggled with his ribs but he was able to continue and take second place.
With Iserbyt not finishing the race, Aerts moves into the World Cup leader's jersey. "Right now, the ribs don't feel good, especially with the cold. I've got time until Thursday to recover. It was a race where every moment things were happening. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to glance back on this race with more pleasure. This is why we race cyclo-cross," Aerts said.
Pidcock was well on his way to capture a first-ever podium spot in the World Cup when he crashed hard in the same descent. He ran further down the muddy path but then struggled to get back on his bike and also found no grip when trying to run on the pavé.
Pidcock kept a small bonus over Van Kessel halfway the final lap but when his seatpost snapped his run for the podium was over. Van Kessel gave a small wave when he crossed the finish line at the Esplanade of the citadel in third place at 1:14 from compatriot Van der Poel.
"I had a good start and then rode at my own pace. Three riders were better than me. In the final lap, I was coming closer on Pidcock. I think he crashed and then he broke his saddle. That allowed me to profit and take third place. I can stand the cold quite well," Van Kessel said.
Pidcock was fourth at 1:31, only ten seconds ahead of an impressive Tim Merlier, Lars van der Haar (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout. The latter remains third in the World Cup standings. German champion Marcel Meisen (Corendon-Circus) always performs well on these muddy courses and he confirmed that by finishing eighth. Timon Ruegg (Swiss Racing Academy) clearly deals well with the mud and cold, as he already showed when he won the Flückiger cross in Madiswil. The 23-year-old rode the race of his life in Namur, moving up from outside the top-30 to a surprising twelfth place at the finish line.
On Boxing Day, the World Cup continues with the seventh of nine rounds at the car racing circuit in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. For now, it remains a question if Aerts sustained a rib injury during his crash and if he will be able to defend his 52-points bonus over Sunday's undercooled Eli Iserbyt.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Corendon-Circus||1:05:59|
|2||Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:00:55|
|3||Corne van Kessel (Ned) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:14|
|4||Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Team Wiggins Lecol||0:01:31|
|5||Tim Merlier (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:01:41|
|6||Lars van der Haar (Ned) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:01:48|
|7||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux-Bingoal||0:01:56|
|8||Marcel Meisen (Ger) Corendon-Circus||0:02:02|
|9||Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:02:23|
|10||Thijs Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:03:11|
|11||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Corendon-Circus||0:03:23|
|12||Timon Rüegg (Swi) Swiss Racing Academy||0:03:28|
|13||Sieben Wouters (Ned)||0:03:49|
|14||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:03:54|
|15||Quinten Hermans (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:03:55|
|16||Daan Soete (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal|
|17||Sascha Weber (Ger)||0:04:16|
|18||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Corendon-Circus||0:04:21|
|19||Stan Godrie (Ned)||0:04:25|
|20||Jens Adams (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:04:30|
|21||Nicola Rohrbach (Swi)||0:04:34|
|22||Felipe Orts Lloret (Spa)||0:04:52|
|23||Gioele Bertolini (Ita)||0:04:56|
|24||Michael Boroš (Cze)||0:04:58|
|25||Yan Gras (Fra)||0:05:00|
|26||Jan Nesvadba (Cze)||0:05:10|
|27||Curtis White (USA)||0:05:31|
|28||David Menut (Fra)||0:05:52|
|29||Diether Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal||0:07:08|
|30||Kevin Suarez Fernandez (Spa)|
|31||Vincent Baestaens (Bel)|
|32||Michael Van Den Ham (Can)|
|33||Joshua Dubau (Fra)|
|34||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions|
|35||Maik Van Der Heijden (Ned)|
|36||Kerry Werner (USA)|
|37||Gilles Mottiez (Swi)|
|38||Arthur Tropardy (Fra)|
|39||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux-Bingoal|
|40||Ondrej Glajza (Svk)|
|41||Mario Junquera San Millan (Spa)|
|42||Nicolas Samparisi (Ita)|
|43||Marcel Wildhaber (Swi)|
|44||Daniel Mayer (Cze)|
|45||Braam Merlier (Bel)|
|46||Florian Trigo (Fra)|
|47||Cristian Cominelli (Ita)|
|48||Lucas Dubau (Fra)|
|49||Lorenzo Samparisi (Ita)|
|50||Marvin Schmidt (Ger)|
|51||Max Judelson (USA)|
|52||Lukas Winterberg (Swi)|
|53||Andrew Giniat (USA)|
|54||Jonatan Östlund (Swe)|
|55||Andrew Juiliano (USA)|
|56||Cameron Jette (Can)|
|57||Miguel Llaneza Arguelles (Spa)|
|58||Thomas Edhofer (Ger)|
|DNF||Nicolas Cleppe (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions|
|DNF||Lander Loockx (Bel)|
|DNF||Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Marlux-Bingoal|
|DNF||David van der Poel (Ned) Corendon-Circus|
|DNF||Steve Chainel (Fra)|
|DNF||Ismael Esteban Aguero (Spa)|
|DNF||Aurélien Philibert (Fra)|
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