Mathieu Van der Poel retained his UCI Cyclocross World Championships elite men’s title in commanding style, adding a sixth title to his road race crown.
The 29-year-old took his sixth elite world cyclocross jersey in style after riding away from his rivals on the first lap to win comfortably by 37 seconds in Tábor.
Fellow Dutchman Joris Nieuwenhuis was the rider closest to Van der Poel’s pace but gradually lost time to his compatriot.
Belgian rider Michael Vanthourenhout managed to break the Dutch dominance and used his experience to ride into medal contention. The two-time European champion clawed Nieuwenhuis back to 12 seconds on the final lap but had to settle for third after the gap went back out.
Winner Van der Poel is now just a single world title away from Belgian Erik De Vlaeminck’s record of seven world championship wins.
After winning 13 from 14 ‘cross races this season, the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider is set to build into the Classics season and next month’s Tour of Flanders.
“It was the most important race of my cyclocross season so I’m happy to take the win,” said Van der Poel after taking victory.
Three-time elite world cyclo-cross title winner Zdenek Stybar finished his career with an emotional lap of honour in front of his home Czech Republic fans, finishing 31st.
“He’s a super-nice guy as well, and I train a lot with him,” added Van der Poel. “I hope he continues to train a bit so we can go together on rides.”
How it unfolded
With former world champions Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) and Wout Van Aert (Belgium) not on the start line as they prepared for other goals, all eyes were on Van der Poel in Tábor.
The defending world champion has been in dominant form this ‘cross season, taking 12 wins from 13 races.
A strong wind on the exposed Tábor course added to the soft ground, making for gruelling championship conditions.
Van der Poel had targeted the World Championship and hoped to hit his best form of the ‘cross season in the showcase.
With a strong start to the race, Van der Poel powered away from the line leading on the asphalt section into the first grass section.
Van der Poel was putting the power down in the opening minutes and Belgian Niels Vandeputte was the only competitor able to immediately follow.
Great Britain hopeful Cameron Mason was one of those who got swamped off the start-line and fell back to 33rd.
Swiss rider Timon Rüegg was more successful away from the start, but a mechanical ended his hopes in the opening minutes.
Joris Nieuwenhuis briefly reached the front before Dutch teammate Van der Poel forced a gap after just four minutes of racing.
Vandeputte had followed the early pace but fell back behind Nieuwenhuis, who was left attempting to chase his Dutch teammate alone.
France had already won two gold medals in other categories this weekend, and Clément Venturini led the chase behind in third.
After the opening lap, a focused Van der Poel led by eight seconds from Nieuwenhuis, while Venturini led a string of Belgian riders 24 seconds behind the leader.
Dutch national champion Nieuwenhuis has had a breakout ‘cross season, finishing runner-up in the World Cup overall, but was slowly losing time to Van der Poel on the second lap.
Behind 10 riders were separated by as many seconds in the battle for third but 35 seconds behind the lone leader.
Two-time European champion Vanthourenhout was bidding for his second elite world championship medal and powered away from the battle for third along with Pim Ronhaar (Netherlands).
World Cup overall winner Eli Iserbyt sat in the next chasing group along with last year’s under-23 world champion Thibau Nys as the pair tried to chase back into medal contention.
At the head of proceedings, Van der Poel was perfecting the course and grew his gap to 14 seconds over the consistent Nieuwenhuis.
Dutch riders were attempting a podium clean sweep, and the experienced Lars Van der Haar was next to chase the bronze medal pairing.
At the midway point, a determined Van der Poel had an advantage of 30 seconds over fellow Dutchman Nieuwenhuis, while Vanthourenhout and Ronhaar sat a further 26 seconds back.
With his Dutch team-mate chasing, Ronhaar stopped helping Vanthourenhout with the pace-setting in an intriguing battle for bronze between the two national teams.
Vanthourenhout sensed his rival for bronze was fading and used the course’s hardest sections to force a gap and matched the leader’s lap time.
Relentless with his pace, Van der Poel entered the penultimate lap with a margin of 43 seconds, while Vanthourenhout was closing and just 13 seconds behind the silver medal position.
Any hopes of a late medal charge for Van der Haar were ended on the penultimate lap when his chain snapped, resulting in a long run to the pits.
Vanthourenhout could see Nieuwenhuis in the silver medal position as 12 seconds separated them when taking the last lap bell.
However, Nieuwenhuis had managed his effort perfectly and grew his advantage over Vanthourenhout back out to secure the silver medal.
With the battle going on behind, a relaxed Van der Poel lost time on the final lap to win comfortably by 37 seconds.
Fellow Dutchman Nieuwenhuis was the best of the rest, with the 27-year-old clinching his first elite world cyclo-cross world championship medal.
Despite his impressive penultimate lap, Vanthourenhout had to settle for third place a further 29 seconds back. Meanwhile, Michael Boros was boosted by a home Czech Republic crowd into a seventh-placed finish.
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