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How much more superior can Mathieu van der Poel be compared with the rest of the cyclocross peloton? At the X2O Trophy in Koksijde, the world champion continued his succession of trouncings, taking his ninth straight victory in an undefeated streak for the season.
In his other appearances this season, Van der Poel has prevailed by 1:55 in Baal, 12 seconds in Hulst, 39 in Loenhout, 49 in Diegem, 36 in Gavere, 29 in Antwerp, 1:17 in Mol, and 28 seconds in Herentals.
The gap was nearly as large in Koksijde after Van der Poel’s first-lap attack and power ride through the sand. Pim Ronhaar (Baloise Trek) continued his ascent in stature, taking second at 1:20 and holding off a late chase from Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike), who finished third at 1:38.
Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek) provided the most late-race excitement in his battle for the lower podium spot with Van Aert but had to relent when the Belgian put in his acceleration on the penultimate lap.
Up front van der Poel had time to high-five the crowd and celebrate his nine from nine winning streak.
“I went to the front at the end of lap 1 and I did two really good sand sections and I immediately had a really nice gap. I tried to take my own pace from the start because it’s a super tough race,” he said post-race.
“It’s difficult to recover now with the mud section between the sand sections which made it a really hard course.”
In the start line all eyes were on van der Poel and Van Aert, while Tom Pidcock (Ineos) was out with illness.
Van der Poel shot out fast from the green light but Van Aert got around to lead into the first sand climb. Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Corendon) was keen to challenge and took the lead into the first trip over the dune.
Sweeck continued to lead as the other favourites seemed to not want to burn matches too early in such a tough parcours.
The hesitation wasn’t for long, and Van der Poel took the lead before the longer climb over the dune with Van Aert unable to follow, and Sweeck dropping back to the chasing group. After overcooking a turn, Van Aert then dropped back behind a flying Pim Ronhaar (Baloise Trek) in the muddy section.
Van der Poel already had seven seconds on Ronhaar and Van Aert back at 13 seconds, joined by Joran Wyseure, Quinten Hermans (Alpecin-Deceuninck) with Sweeck, Niels Vandeputte and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) about to latch on.
Van der Poel rode the steep sandy run-up with ease, Ronhaar matched his pace but Van Aert had to grab onto the course-side banners to keep his momentum in a section that presaged the rest of the race. The differences were subtle but significant.
The world champion and Ronhaar continued to be superior on the sandy climbs and came to the line at the end of lap 2 only six seconds apart, while the rest lost ground at 22 seconds.
Lars van der Haar, the series leader, joined the chase at the end of lap three while Ronhaar began to fade. He ended the next circuit at 16 seconds from the leader, while Van der Haar led Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Van Aert and Vanthourenhout across the line at 49 seconds.
It seemed another blow-out was on hand with the race not even halfway done.
Yet any challenge from Van Aert evaporated as he appeared to lack the skills and power to ride the dunes like van der Poel.
By the end of lap five, Van der Poel had sailed away to another huge advantage and then another victory. He is now nine from nine with his cyclocross campaign on track to finish with another world title in Tabor on February 4.
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