Tom Pidcock had to settle for an eighth-place finish in at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Antwerp after an illness and first-lap crash made for a tough afternoon for the Briton.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider was in top form last weekend when he battled to victory in the previous weekend’s World Cup round in Namur.
However, before the start in Antwerp, the 24-year-old revealed he had been suffering from an illness and was unsure of his form.
“I didn’t do any training all week, I’m tired,” said the former cyclocross world champion. “I’m unsure how it will go. I’m happy that I’m better for the races coming up.”
It was Pidcock’s third race of the cyclocross season, after two podium finishes, and the first time he had come up against Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert in the same event.
However, the sand course in Antwerp was not his preferred venue for the first clash of the sport’s ‘big three’ riders.
He added: “They build it up [the big-three clash, ed.] on this course, I think I need to be more worried about the rest,” Pidcock said.
Pidcock’s pre-race thoughts came to fruition as in the first sand section away from the start, he collided with Joran Wyseure, resulting in the Pidcock crashing and losing valuable time.
The day’s eventual winner, Van der Poel, also struggled with a mishap when missed his pedal off the start line, resulting in the Dutch rider being swarmed by his rivals and getting stuck behind a stricken Pidcock.
“I missed my start a bit,” said Van der Poel after taking his third victory on the bounce in dominant style.
“I clipped out of my pedal and got caught in the chaos a bit, so I had to take my time getting back to the front. I felt the legs were good, I didn’t panic and took my time to get there.”
Van der Poel initially wound up in 28th place on the course after the early race drama, while Pidcock had to battle his way back to the front from 18th.
Van der Poel made quick work of getting himself back into the leading group, which was being driven along by Eli Iserbyt.
Then, in the third lap, a mistake by Iserbyt in a sand section gave Van der Poel the opportunity to power clear and pull out a commanding gap.
“I was behind Eli (Iserbyt), and he made a mistake and was struggling a little bit with the sand section. I tried to get through there as smooth as possible,” added Van der Poel.
“I immediately had a gap, and I hoped that behind me, they would look a bit at each other because there was quite a lot of wind. I managed to keep my pace again, and I felt good until the end.”
Meanwhile, Pidcock fell just short of bridging across to a chasing group containing Wout Van Aert, which eventually pulled away.
Van Aert finished runner-up 29 seconds behind the comfortable winner and Iserbyt third. Pidcock had to settle for an eighth-place finish 1:14 behind Van der Poel.
The battle of the so-called “big three” is due to recommence between Pidcock, Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert in three days’ time at the World Cup round in Gavere.