Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) came out on top of his first cyclocross showdown with Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) this season, taking a comprehensive solo victory through the sand at the Exact Cross Zilvermeercross in Mol.
The world champion, starting his second race of the season after dominating in Herentals at the weekend, left Van Aert behind on the third of 10 laps after the pair had established themselves at the front during the early laps.
“I felt very good. I rode well through the sand and that was the most important thing here. Then you can quickly make a difference,” said Van der Poel immediately after the race. “I had organized my race and my round well. I was able to recover to ride error-free in the sand. And like I said, that’s the most important thing here. I enjoyed myself.”
His career-long rival Van Aert, who also dominated on his season debut in Essen earlier this month, had already shown signs of weakness at several points of the circuit, so it was no real surprise to see Van der Poel take the upper hand.
Van Aert was unable to ride fully on his pedals up one of the steeper ramps, which Van der Poel was capable of riding through on the second lap. Just the next time round the Dutchman accelerated into the bottom of the bank and gapped his rival.
“It concerns people more than us,” said Van der Poel on the pair’s rivalry.
“Wout indicated that he is tackling the winter without being in the best shape. That seems smart to me in his case. I think he will definitely make it difficult for me in other races and sit at the front. He is going to win a few this season.”
The Dutchman, who will race a fuller winter calendar than Van Aert as he targets a sixth world title, was on his own for the remainder of the hour-long race, crossing the line 1:16 up on second-placed Van Aert. His dominance of the race saw him lap all riders up to tenth place.
Behind the duo, who were always the top favourites to fill the first and second spots on the podium, it was Van der Poel’s teammate Niels Vandeputte who grabbed third, albeit 2:11 back. Another Alpecin-Deceuninck man, Quinten Hermans, and Toon Vandebosch (Crelan-Corendon) took fourth and fifth places.
Van Aert and Van der Poel won’t have to wait long or another showdown as both are present on the start list for tomorrow’s CX World Cup in Antwerp. But they will also have Tom Pidcock for company, making it the first face off between the discipline’s ‘big three’ this season.
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