Toon Aerts (Belgium) sprang a surprise to become the new European cyclo-cross champion, completing a long solo ride after a tactical race in Pont-Château, France on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon.
Despite being 23 years old, Aerts was the oldest rider on the podium in the Loire region, flanked by the top favourites, 21-year-old Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) and 22-year-old Wout Van Aert (Belgium), as he received the white-blue jersey and his gold medal.
"I'm going enjoy the jersey so much. On Tuesday [Koppenbergcross] I will wear that jersey. It will be great. I will see what the other races will bring but this season is already the best of my life," Aerts said.
These were the second-ever European championships in the Elite Men category. Defending champion Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) finished seventh.
During the eighth of twelve 2620-metre-long laps, Aerts rode away in front while the big guns were watching each other in the large group. In a race for national teams instead of commercial teams the Belgian riders protected Aerts' surprise move. None of the other nations was strong enough to organise the chase on the fast undulating course in the Coët-Roz forest.
Van der Poel won the sprint for second place at 45 seconds from Aerts. Local favourite Clément Venturini (France) was a fraction slower than world champion Van Aert, missing out on a podium result. Jens Adams (Belgium) was an inch faster than Kevin Pauwels (Belgium). Van der Haar (Netherlands) was just ahead of a surprisingly strong Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland) and Steve Chainel (France), all featuring in the first chase group during the final lap. Corné van Kessel (Netherlands) closed out the top-10 in Pont-Château.
Before the surprise move from Aerts there had been several attempts from Van der Poel to create a selection. A first move came at the end of the third lap. The Dutch ace smashed up the long climb, hopped the barriers, only to find out he was marked by Wout Van Aert, Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) and Clément Venturini. The quartet had a gap of ten seconds but the move was brought back by Van der Haar in the fourth lap. It was a similar scenario in the fifth lap. Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) profited from a cease-fire in the peloton and at the end of the lap Van der Poel closed the gap and then noticed Van Aert and Michael Boros (Czech Republic) were glued to his wheel. The four riders again had a gap of ten seconds but none of them wanted to keep the pace up.
At the end of the sixth lap a strong Michael Vanthourenhout went up the road, accompanied by Venturini. During the seventh lap Van Aert and Van der Haar bridged up to the duo and the pace dropped again. About twenty riders were still featuring in front when Vanthourenhout dropped away due to mechanical problems. This time Mathieu Boulo (France) profited from a cease-fire in the peloton.
During the eighth lap Aerts brought the peloton back to the French rider while the top favourites were sitting further back in the group. When Aerts accelerated himself neither Boulo nor Twan van den Brand (Netherlands) had enough left in their tank to provide an answer. During the remaining four laps Van Aert proved to be the perfect teammate for Aerts, taking away all appetite for initiative among the other nations. That while Van Aert and Aerts are not riding in the same commercial team during the rest of the year.
By then, Van der Poel took a spot at the back of the group, realizing he wouldn't be racing for the gold medal. "I got the most out of it. I can keep closing every gap but it's not up to me to do that," he told Sporza. We [Netherlands] should've had somebody with Toon. He didn't steal away the victory as he had to work for it but if I would be chasing alone with Wout we would've come back. We had a small gap a few times but the rest of the course is so fast that it's impossible to create a selection. The first gap I heard with Aerts was 37 seconds and I knew straight away that he had won."
When Van Aert accelerated himself he was marked by Pauwels, Venturini, Boros and eventually also Van der Poel. Chainel, Adams and Wildhaber bridged up as well, creating the chase group of eight riders that would sprint for second place. Chainel had a late mechanical and ended up in ninth place.
"My plan was to wait as long as possible, maybe until the final corner, " Van Aert told Sporza. "It was impossible to gap Mathieu on this course. Our team played it perfectly by attacking one after the other. Toon's attack came at the perfect moment. He deserves the victory because he seized the right moment.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Toon Aerts (Belgium)||1:04:16|
|2||Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands)||0:00:45|
|3||Wout Van Aert (Belgium)||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Clément Venturini (France)||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Jens Adams (Belgium)||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Kevin Pauwels (Belgium)||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands)||0:00:49|
|8||Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland)||0:00:55|
|9||Steve Chainel (France)||0:01:05|
|10||Corne Van Kessel (Netherlands)||0:01:09|
|11||David Van Der Poel (Netherlands)||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Twan Van Den Brand (Netherlands)||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Matthieu Boulo (France)||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Laurens Sweeck (Belgium)||0:01:13|
|15||Martin Haring (Slovakia)||0:01:15|
|16||Francis Mourey (France)||0:01:22|
|17||Severin Saegesser (Switzerland)||0:01:45|
|18||Michael Boros (Czech Republic)||0:01:55|
|19||Simon Zahner (Switzerland)||0:02:14|
|20||Alois Falenta (France)||0:02:38|
|21||Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg)||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Asier Arregui Dominguez (Spain)||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Fredrik Haraldseth (Norway)||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Stan Godrie (Netherlands)||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands)||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Wietse Bosmans (Belgium)||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium)||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Philipp Walsleben (Germany)||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tim Merlier (Belgium)||Row 28 - Cell 2|
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