World champion Mathieu van der Poel put in a stellar final lap to win the World Cup round in Namur on Sunday.
The BKCP-Corendon rider was locked into a three-way battle with World Cup leader Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games), and if Pauwels was looking the weaker of the trio, it was still anyone’s race in the final go-round.
Van Aert and van der Poel traded attack after attack, but the one that stuck came from the rainbow jersey, who took the front at the pits, leading into the finishing straight and staying there for the celebration. Van Aert held on for second with Pauwels third.
“Yesterday in Antwerp Wout was the strongest, but today it’s my turn,” said van der Poel. “I am extremely happy with this victory. It’s one of my best victories. It was very difficult and I was completely broken in the end. Who in the final round still had most in the tank, won.”
The quickest start came from Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink), who led the men up the steep start and onto the dirt with Corne Van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea) on his wheel and Van Aert and van der Poel hovering within striking distance.
Soon Nys and Van Aert were off the front. Van Kessel and Tom Meeusen (Telenet) were chasing. Meeusen linked up just in time to start the second lap, and soon a host of others joined up, too, among them European champion Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin).
Van Aert moved into the lead after a tight downhill corner. Then Toon Aerts (Telenet) 17 attacked and got a bit of daylight, pursued by Van Aert and Nys.
In lap three Aerts had a five-second gap over the chase, led by Clement Venturini (Cofidis). Nys drifted back in the pursuit, but Van Aert did not, and he soon fought his way up to the leader.
Nys and a half-dozen others followed as the Belgian was able to ride a steep section that the others were forced to run. And going into fourth lap there was a lead group of eight at the head of affairs, among them Michael Boros (BKCP-Corendon), who was next to take the lead. Then van der Haar decided to try his luck, surging to the front on a long off-camber stretch.
With five to go Van Aert was leading the group, now nine riders strong, including the world champ, Nys and Pauwels.
Van der Haar attacked again, opening a gap over the others, only to slide out and crash in a slick right-hand corner. He got up quickly and stayed on point, though, marked by Van Aert and van der Poel.
Van Aert got the better of the Dutchman the next time through the off-camber section and took charge at the front. Van der Poel followed and the two were away.
With four to go Pauwels was closing in on the two leaders with Venturini some six seconds back and the others — Nys, van der Haar and Belgian champion Klaas Vantornout (Telenet) — well distanced.
A lap further along the trio had a comfortable lead over Venturini, who was mired in the middle between the leaders and the Nys-van der Haar chase, more than a half minute down.
Just ahead of the pits Van Aert slowed and let van der Poel take the front. Venturini was fighting to rejoin the leaders, but finding it tough sledding.
With two laps remaining Van Aert was in point with Venturini at nine seconds and van der Haar leading Vantornout at 21 seconds. Nys was in eighth at 48 seconds and signaling that he didn’t have a better day hidden away somewhere.
Then van der Poel drilled it, quickly opening a four-second gap. He didn’t keep it — Van Aert quickly brought him back — and the two traded blows with Pauwels sitting third and awaiting any opportunity that might present itself.
Behind, van der Haar and Vantornout caught Venturini as the leaders slowed, taking a moment to assess each other. And with bell lap Pauwels was finally on the front.
The van der Haar-Vantornout chase was 20 seconds down as the three leaders began their final lap. Van der Poel drove to the front going into a steep descent, and Van Aert countered into a run-up, with Pauwels sitting third.
The world champion led on the off-camber stretch with van Aert second and Pauwels briefly lost the wheel. Then van der Poel attacked again into the next run-up. Again Van Aert responded, while Pauwels again lost ground.
Van Aert launched a move of his own on a rideable climb, and van der Poel responded, really giving it the gas. He led onto the finishing straight and held his advantage to the line.
Van Aert held on for second with Pauwels third.
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) was the top American in 23rd, 3:55 down.
Van Aert continues to lead the World Cup series with 290 points. Nys remains second with 261 while van der Haar sits third with 255.
The next round of the World Cup will be December 26 at Heusden-Zolder.