Belgium dominates Sunday's racing in Valkenburg-Limburg
The second day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships in Valkenburg-Limburg (Netherlands) featured two big races in the muddy clay of the famous Cauberg climb. The biggest race of the weekend was won by a mud-clad Wout Van Aert (Belgium). He captured a third successive title in the Men Elite category after a long solo ride on a cold Sunday afternoon. A few hours earlier, Eli Iserbyt won his second world title in the Men Under 23 category as the snow came down.
After a weekend full of spectacular muddy races in Valkenburg-Limburg, the Belgium team heads back home with three gold medals in the pocket, winning in the Men Elite, Women Elite and Men Under 23 category. Great-Britain took the wins in the Men Junior and Women Under 23 category. The home country organized a great event that attracted massive crowds and a splendid course. They even won a medal in each category but missed out on the top spot. Next year, the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships are hosted by Bogense, Denmark.
Coming into this world title race, home rider Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) was the big favourite. He won 26 out of 32 races this season on all types of terrain. The only major challenger seemed defending champion Wout Van Aert, who switched focus from the series to this one race quite early in the season. In his typical attacking style, Van der Poel surged away during the opening lap but in contrast to other races, he was unable to shake off Van Aert. During the second lap, Van Aert took the initiative. In one of the deep-mud sections Van Aert ploughed away from the struggling Dutch ace. In no time, the gap grew up to twenty seconds. Mentally Van der Poel took another blow when Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) bridged up with him. While Van Aert continued to ride away and halfway the race he was 1:30 ahead of the duo Van der Poel and Vanthourenhout. They would continue to battle for second place, with Toon Aerts (Belgium) following at short distance. During Van Aert was nearly two minutes ahead of the first chaser when he suddenly went over the handlebars in the fifth of seven laps. It proved to be a minor scare as he quickly recovered and continued to expand his lead and ride towards his third world title.
Vanthourenhout managed to drop Van der Poel for good during the same fifth lap. Little later, there was some minor snowfall as Van der Poel ended up in a battle for the remaining podium spot with Toon Aerts. Somehow, Van der Poel bounced back and secured the bronze medal. Van Aert had time to celebrate his victory and he crossed the line while raising his arms as he stood up on the pedals. More than two minutes later, an emotional Vanthourenhout grabbed silver ahead of Van der Poel. Toon Aerts no longer pushed and finished fourth at 3:16. Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) was best of the rest at 4:29, finishing ahead of a surprisingly strong Gioele Bertolini (Italy). Belgian riders Tim Merlier, Laurens Sweeck and Daan Soete were the next to cross the finish line. Steve Chainel (France) closed out the top-10 in Valkenburg.
Men Under 23
The expected duel between titans Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) and Thomas Pidcock (Great-Britain) was never a topic during the race in the Men Under 23 category on Sunday morning. Last year's Men Junior UCI Cyclo-cross world champion Pidcock didn't have a great start on the muddy course and never made it back to the front of the race. Defending champion Joris Nieuwenhuis (Netherlands) had a difficult season but he clearly wasn't planning to give away his rainbow jersey without a fight. Nieuwenhuis took a blistering start and halfway the opening lap he was alone in front at the long steep run-up. At the same time, Iserbyt dropped his fellow chasers and went in pursuit of the Dutch leader. During the second of five laps, Nieuwenhuis slipped away at the first off-camber descent which broke his shoe. Iserbyt bridged up and quickly left Nieuwenhuis behind at the first pit zone. The latter then had to switch his shoe at the second pit zone and the gap was suddenly 17 seconds.
From there, Iserbyt kept expanding his lead despite going over the handlebars in the long technical twisting descent. During the penultimate lap Yan Gras (France) bridged up with Nieuwenhuis, with the rest of the field out of contention for the medals. During the final lap, snow started coming down on the mud-clad riders. It didn't bother Iserbyt who grabbed his second world title, two years after his win in Heusden-Zolder (Belgium).
Nieuwenhuis managed to shake off Gras and grab the silver medal at half a minute from Iserbyt. Gras was delighted with the bronze medal at short distance. Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic) never managed to get in the mix for the medals, finishing fourth at 1:25, well ahead of Belgian champion Thijs Aerts (Belgium). Favourite Thomas Pidcock was fifteenth at almost four minutes.