Wout van Aert admitted to ‘going over his limit’ as rival Mathieu van der Poel rode away to take his fourth victory of the cyclocross season at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Gavere.
In the third ‘cross meeting of the WorldTour competitors this month it was world cyclocross champion Van der Poel who again triumphed in muddy conditions.
The tough banks and treacherous descents gave Van Aert more confidence he could beat his long-standing rival in Gavere compared to the previous races – which featured long sand sections.
Van der Poel powered away on the opening lap and only Van Aert could respond as five seconds separated the pair, but as Van Aert tried to bridge across, Van der Poel increased his advantage to 30 seconds.
“In the beginning, Mathieu just smashed it and was on another level,” Van Aert said. “It was extremely difficult today, the mud was quite sticky and every lap it was harder and harder to stay on the bike.
“In the beginning, I was a bit too enthusiastic and tried to follow Mathieu’s pace. Or at least to stay close to him. As a result, I exploded in the second lap and quickly lost a lot of time.”
A lap later Van Aert clipped a spectator on a slippery descent section while riding close to the course markings as the gap increased further.
The gap between the rivals remained consistent for the remainder of the event with the Belgian finishing 36 seconds behind the world cyclocross champion.
“I tried to push the whole race, but especially in the first two laps I tried to stay close to him (Van der Poel) and halfway in the second lap on the long climb I went a bit over my limit and that’s something you shouldn’t do on this race because I lost 30 seconds in the lap afterwards.
Despite finishing a familiar second place to rival Van der Poel the Belgian was happy with his performance as he pressurised the in-form Dutch rider and reflected on some of the mistakes he made on the difficult course.
“I was quite happy with how it went,” Van Aert added. “I tried it and I think you could see that, too. But I also made some technical mistakes.
“This often goes hand in hand with when you are having a more difficult time physically.
“You see the lines just a little less. I’m not entirely satisfied with that. It was my first really difficult mud ‘cross and I noticed that.”
Despite finishing second best Van Aert was a firm favourite with the partisan Belgium crowd.
“It was a ‘cross that was quickly in place but that apparently didn’t bother the supporters,” he added. “There was a lot of atmosphere. I had a lot of encouragement, I really enjoyed that.”
With Van Aert focusing on the Spring Classics, Giro d’Italia and Olympic Games next year his cyclocross season looks different to previous seasons and the Belgian finishes his ‘cross campaign two weeks before the world championships.
Van der Poel is bidding to defend his cyclocross world title in February and the two have different goals from this ‘cross season.
“I made the choice to organise this winter differently,” added Van Aert. “The results are good, but maybe just a little less than usual. But that’s just the way it is.”