The Dutch powerhouse mounted a masterful defense of his rainbow jersey on the snowy Louisville circuit
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (VN) — It was no contest. Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands) easily defended his junior crown at the UCI Elite Cyclocross World Championships on Saturday, flashing his No. 1 race number as he sailed across the line alone.
Dutch and Belgian riders took charge early on the snowcovered course at Eva Bandman Park, with Van der Poel leading teammate Martijn Budding by seven seconds going through the start-finish and into the second lap.
Two Belgians were in hot pursuit — Yannick Peeters and Nicolas Clepp — while American Logan Owen was sitting ninth.
None of the leaders pitted early on. The course remained snowy and slick, and the long limestone staircase was entirely snowbound.
That didn’t stop Van Der Poel from trying to ride it. He failed, and shortly thereafter slid out and into the fencing. But the Dutch star didn’t let the mishap faze him — he was quickly back on the bike and rode the barriers for good measure. He would ride them throughout the race.
Asked if it was his plan to go early, Van Der Poel replied: “That was my plan the whole season. And I didn’t know why I had to change it. I just did what I did the whole season, and that was okay.”
With four laps to go Van Der Poel had a 12-second advantage over Budding. A lap later the margin was 25 seconds, with Peeters leading the Belgians at 32 and Logan closing fast in fifth.
At the limestone staircase Owen had joined the Belgians.
Two to go: Van Der Poel led Budding by 42 seconds. The Belgians and Owen followed at 1:04, with Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic) just behind, making it a four-man battle for the final step on the podium.
Van Der Poel took the opportunity to grab a fresh bike during the lap. Behind, Owen attacked on the limestone stairs and moved into the lead of the chase, only to lose his chain and drop out of the pursuit as Toupalik took charge.
The American fought to close the gap, blazing through the barriers.
Going into the bell lap Van der Poel was long gone, 51 seconds ahead of Budding, who in turn was solidly in second. Peeters led Toupalik and Cleppe through at more than a minute down, with a frantic Owen dangling just behind.
A collision approaching the limestone staircase saw Peeters stumble and drop out of the pursuit as Toupalik rode past and the chase was down to the Czech, Cleppe and Owen.
Toupalik took a slight edge over the others going over the barriers, but he was racing for third, Ahead, the Dutch went one-two, with Budding crossing for the silver at 56 seconds. Toupalik rounded out the podium in third at 1:19. Owen just missed a medal, finishing fourth.
“The pressure was there, but I wasn’t as nervous as I was last year,” Van Der Poel said. “I rode 24 races and I won 24 so I didn’t know what I had to worry about. I was just concentrating on my own race, trying to make no mistakes. I made one — I fell — and I just rode harder and harder.”
Budding said he was content with second place.
“The course was a little bit slippery, but every lap was better for me,” he said. “There was one round where I made too many mistakes. Then the next round I rode very hard, so the gap went bigger. I’m very, very happy.”
Toupalik said he had a poor start, but managed to recover in time to attack past the Belgians on the staircase and clinch third place.
“For me it’s the biggest result, and I’m very satisfied,” he said.
As for Owen, he was disappointed to miss the podium. The American champion said he misjudged the starting lights, nearly false-starting, and then was caught in bad position from the first turn. On the last lap, he tangled with Toupalik and had problems with his chain.
“I felt great out there. I know I was one of the strongest, maybe the second strongest in the race,” he said. “I really thought I could still take a bronze medal, and it’s really disappointing that I didn’t. I had a lot of support out there and I feel like I let a lot of people down.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Louisville.