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Wout van Aert (Visma-Leasa a Bike) claimed a solo victory at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Benidorm, Spain. The Belgian made his winning move on the last lap, and although he crashed after the barriers and his saddle broke off the seat post, he managed to hold off chaser and runner-up Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) to take his first World Cup win of the season.
“I have a little bit of pain on my wrist. I think it is meant to be; my mother broke her wrist yesterday, they got married on the 13th of July, today I saw I had the number 13, and I thought, ‘it’s my day’. It was bad luck involved in the race, but I kept going, and that’s the way I like it,” said Van Aert, who finished the race without a saddle.
Thibau Nys (Baloise Trek Lions) led the chase group in for third place ahead of Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), while World Champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) managed to come back to take fifth place after he lost time due to a crash on the penultimate lap.
“I felt quite strong today. Obviously, Mathieu was strong, too, but had some bad luck, so it’s unfortunate that it didn’t come down to a battle. Still, when Mathieu crashed in the final, I had to beat all the others, and it was not easy. I’m happy I was able to do that,” Van Aert said.
“It’s always a sweet feeling to win, but, especially, the feeling of having good legs today was my goal, and I definitely succeeded in that, so it was a nice day for me. My plan will not change; it was a tight race today, so it will be an interesting World Championships.”
How it unfolded
The men’s field lined up under sunny and dry weather conditions for the penultimate round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Benidorm, Spain.
The location and timing of round 13 attracted the biggest stars, including world champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), from January training camps, many of which take place in the Calpe and Denía area which is very close to the coastal town.
Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Corendon) led the field onto the dry and dusty circuit, followed by Joris Nieuwenhuis and Thibau Nys (both Baloise Trek Lions), Ryan Kamp and Eli Iserbyt (both Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal).
The ‘big three’ of Van der Poel, Van Aert, and Pidcock were stuck further back in the long line of riders trying to move forward on the opening lap. Van der Poel noted after the race that he had a mechanical and dropped his chain while Van Aert’s pedal came loose shortly after the start, forcing him to chase.
Van der Poel threaded himself through the field, moving around riders and into the top 20, still several places behind Van Aert and Pidock, who were further up the line in the 12th and 15th at the start of the second lap.
At the front of the race, Pim Ronhaar (Baloise Trek Lions) stomped on his pedals on the paved climb and moved into the lead. But the paved section also allowed Van Aert and Van der Poel to use their road strength and power to gain ground.
Van Aert quickly jumped into the race lead before the end of the lap, Van der Poel in fourth, both riders setting the fastest lap times of 6:39.
Pidcock also consistently moved forward and led the chase group from sixth place down at the start of lap four, 11 seconds behind the lead group of Van Aert, Nys and Van der Poel.
Also in the chase group with Pidcock were Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), Iserbyt, Rohnaar, Nieuwenhuis, and Toon Vandebosch (Crelan-Corendon).
Van Aert surged across the pavement on lap four, and only Van der Poel could follow the speeds, with Nys losing ground. Van der Poel counter-attacked around Van Aert, forcing his rival to spend extra energy to close the gap.
Although the Van Aert and Van der Poel had 10 seconds on Pidcock and Vanthourenout at the start of lap five, the Ineos Grenadiers rider single-handedly shut the gap down on the first half of the circuit and punched into the race lead. The crowds responded with loud cheering as the race between the ‘big three’ emerged.
Pidcock carried so much speed over the barriers and into the technical corners that he opened a two-second gap on Van Aert, Van der Poel and Vanthourenhout before the start of lap six. He was then distanced after a bike change in the pits but reconnected with the leaders by the end of the lap.
Slowing ever-so-slightly at the start of the penultimate lap, Van Aert, Van der Poel, Vanthourenhout, and Pidcock looked back to see Nys, Iserbyt, Vandebosch, Filipe Orts, Lars van der Haar, and Clement Venturini (Arkea) in the mix.
An untimely crash saw Van der Poel go down, losing time and positions as he cautiously remounted his bike and got back into the race, but 22 seconds back.
Up ahead, Van Aert attacked along the uphill pavement on the eighth lap, and Vanthourenhout was the only rider to respond. The pair pushed their lead out to 11 seconds ahead of chasers Nys, Pidcock, Vandebosch, Orts and Van der Haar with one lap to go.
Vanthourenhout led the pair into the sandpit, but Van Aert jumped around the European Champion, made his winning move on the paved uphill section, and continued to open up his lead on the last section of the circuit.
Van Aert chose to dismount his bike before running over the barriers; however, he caught his leg on the saddle during the remount, causing him to crash, and his saddle broke. He then tried to remount again and knocked his saddle off the seatpost.
“I thought I was smart by not jumping over the barriers, so I was sure I wouldn’t make a mistake. I underestimated the surface because my bike bounced, and I jumped up against my saddle. Then my bike hit the ground, and my saddle broke off. That caused a lot of stress,” Van Aert said.
Despite the accident, Van Aert quickly got back up and held off Vanthourenhout to claim the solo victory in Benidorm.
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