Breathtaking test at the World Cup
By Kevin Kemp
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin – Deceuninck) on one of Gavere’s short and steep climbs. | Photo: Cor Vos
26/12/2022 | (rsn) – One hour of cyclocross advertising – and the winners were finally Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin – Deceuninck) and the spectators. The Dutchman fought a thrilling three-way battle with second-placed Wout van Aert (Jumbo – Visma) and third-placed Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) until the semi-finals could decide for themselves. .
Fourth for Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal), who followed the Big Three well until halfway, ahead of Lars van der Haar (Baloise – Trek Lions) and Laurens Sweeck (Crelan – Fristads), who defended the World Cup lead in sixth place on the day.
After things didn’t go to plan for him in his last two competitions at Val di Sole and Mol, van der Poel drove at Gavere like he was unleashed. However, winning the triel was not a matter of prestige for him. “I just wanted to win. I was determined to get a good result,” the four-time world champion said in an interview at the finish line after his third victory of the season.
After his winter campaign, he will certainly fondly remember Gavere’s triumph, because not only was the three-way battle thrilling, but the scenery was perfect too. “It’s a very fair course. It’s difficult and technical. There were really a lot of spectators and I enjoyed it today,” said the winner after his success in the classic.
Van Aert seemed the weakest of the leading trio. Nonetheless, he battled his way back into the race several times and even left Pidcock far behind in the final. In an interview, he confirms the visual impression: “I never had the feeling of fighting for victory. I had to go in pursuit right after the start and I never found my rhythm. I have to settle for second place, that’s all. I could do today,” summed up the Flame.
The third day was different. “I’m a bit disappointed,” admitted Pidcock after the race. Sometimes he was ten seconds ahead. “I had problems with my shoes and I couldn’t pedal well anymore. But I just wasn’t strong enough either. In the meantime I felt like I could win, but as I ran my bike got heavier and I had car on my shoulder”, the Briton looked back. “If only my bike had a motor like a car,” he joked.
In the standings, Sweeck lost two points to Vanthourenhout. The European champion is still second, at 21 points. Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal), third, had to miss his start due to injury. The twelfth race of the series will take place in Zonhoven on January 8.
Silas Kuschla (Stevens) is removed from the race on the fourth lap and ranks 51st. This made the 18-year-old the best of Germany’s eight starters.
Here’s how the race went:
90 pilots took the start at 3:10 p.m. Van der Poel seemed particularly motivated, having started from the second row but taking control on the descent of the first lap. Even before the start of the ascent, he stood out from the large crowd. Pidcock, who was the only one to cycle the whole mountain, was the only one who could come close to the Alpecin pro. At the first finish, van Aert was third and nine seconds behind the duo.
A rear tire puncture on the descent prevented van der Poel from following his British companion. He lost nine seconds and finished just ahead of van Aert and Vanthourenhout. On the ensuing climb, van der Poel rolled and ran to close the gap on Pidcock before a technical error sent him back behind Van Aert. However, under the pace dictated by the Belgian champions, the duo’s gap widened again to nine seconds.
Van der Poel and van Aert then took turns and caught up with the world champion, who again stayed on the bike and lost time as a result, on the climb of the third of six laps. Vanthourenhout has not given up either and is only five seconds behind the leading trio. As the Dutchman moved away from the front a little later, the European champion caught him from behind. Van der Poel was now driving like a madman and had a 14 second lead over Pidcock and van Aert at halfway. Vanthourenhout lost another eleven seconds due to a number of technical errors.
Pidcock has now made a good run. He gains three seconds on the leader and gets rid of van Aert. In the minutes that followed, the top three fought for every second. Van der Poel finished the fourth lap five seconds ahead of Pidcock and seven over van Aert. In the following descent, the world champion was again the best of the three. He came to van der Poel and van Aert also stayed within striking distance and caught the long climb.
The pro from Alpecin didn’t like it: Van der Poel increased the number of strokes again and broke away again in the part of the course that suited him best – and now he finally increased the pressure to decide of the race. At the start of the last lap, he was 14 seconds ahead of van Aert and 25 seconds ahead of Pidcock. Van der Haar had fought his way past Sweeck in the background, Vanthourenhout was still fourth, but was already 1:19 minutes behind.
In the final, nothing moved ahead. Van Aert finished second, 27 seconds behind van der Poel. Pidcock lost 54 seconds and finished third.
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