Wout Van Aert took charge early and had little difficulty claiming his first cyclocross victory of the season in the CrossVegas World Cup. When he unleashed his winning attack, midway through the Wednesday night race in Las Vegas, no one in the elite field had a response. Two-time race winner Sven Nys did well to ride alone to second, but it was all Van Aert, 21, at the front of the grassy, windy race.
“It was definitely long,” said Vastgoedservice’s Van Aert, referring to his attack. “In the beginning it was very difficult, racing with a big group. It wasn’t really comfortable. It was really difficult for me to stay in the front. I did a good move with Sven Nys and Michael Vanthourenhout, and after that it was a normal race. … [After I attacked], it stayed really hard to keep on pushing. It was a really demanding course.”
Tom Meeusen got the holeshot, and was followed closely by Van Aert, along with Belgian champ Kevin Pauwels. After the first lap, Michael Vanthourenhout was on the front, riding tempo at the head of a large group.
On the second lap, Meeusen and Lars van der Haar came to grief on the double barriers. Both men were trying to hop the planks. Meeusen endoed first, and Van der Haar, committed to hopping the barriers, crashed when he saw the Belgian on the ground. Fast group racing was the order of the day, and the error proved significant for both riders.
Vanthourenhout, eager to get away, went to the front again, early on the third lap. He soon had a gap, and was riding alone. The next time across the finish line, he had a 33-second lead.
The alarm bells were ringing in the field, and Nys was first to take the initiative to chase. He cleanly hopped the barriers and soon had a gap, bringing Van Aert along in the pursuit of Vanthourenhout. With four laps to go, the duo was eight seconds behind.
Soon, Nys and Van Aert caught the leader. Behind, U.S. national champ Jeremy Powers attacked the field, trying to bridge the gap, and his effort split a group of six off the front.
The next time through the finish straight, Powers had brought van der Haar with him, distancing the other four chasers.
With three laps to go, Van Aert unleashed an acceleration, dropping Vanthourenhout and Nys on the course’s brutally steep climbs. With two laps left, his lead over Nys was 15 seconds. Vanthourenhout was 26 seconds back in third.
“The hardest part of the course had three climbs close together so I attacked there,” said Van Aert. “When I was alone in the last two laps it was really hard to keep my pace, and I was happy to see the finish line.”
Heading into the final lap, Van Aert persisted alone, at the head of affairs. Nys was 22 seconds behind. Vanthourenhout was 40 seconds in arrears.
Pauwels had chased up to the Powers group, making it three men, but they could not bring back the three solo riders off the front. Van Aert, Nys, and Vanthourenout filled out the podium in that order.