Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) and Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) claimed their UCI cyclocross World Cup titles on Sunday following the final race at Hoogerheide.
Mathieu Van der Poel (BKCP-PowerPlus) won the men’s finale in the Netherlands, bolting away from the field on the first lap, staying away to the finish, and making himself the obvious favorite for a rainbow jersey at the upcoming UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor. Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) took second with Gianni Vermeersch (Sunweb) third.
“I was motivated,” said Van der Poel. “It’s close to my home, and there were a lot of people that I knew who were coming to watch the race. That’s always motivating. And then the course was good for me today, and I had a good day. That’s always nice.”
Pauwels, who finished fourth, collected the overall World Cup title with 430 points. Lars Van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) finished second overall with 345 while Corne Van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea) took third with 307.
“I knew in advance that I couldn’t lose the World Cup anymore, so I wasn’t really thinking about the World Cup today, but more about the race itself,” said Pauwels, who freewheeled to the line, apparently to award the final spot on the podium to his teammate Vermeersch.
“I couldn’t have done better than third,” Pauwels added. “It was a bit of a disappointment that Mathieu van der Poel was so far away. I think there’s now only one favorite for the world championships. I’m not surprised by him, but I hoped the gap wouldn’t be so big.”
Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) took the women’s closer ahead of Katerina Nash (Luna) and Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo-Liv).
Once she hit the front, Lechner rode away from the field. Prevot and Nash chased, but they couldn’t erase the gap.
Lechner, who is racing cyclocross primarily as training for mountain biking, said she’s become “more professional and more focused” after getting some solid results.
“I didn’t expect to [win] today,” she said. “I just arrived yesterday, late evening, straight from my team training camp. So I didn’t really have the best preparation. But even for that, I’m quite happy that I could win.”
Cant, like Pauwels, finished fourth to lock up the series title with 246 points. Ellen Van Loy (Telenet-Fidea) finished second with 204 and Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing) rounded out the podium in third with 187.
“It was pretty awful, actually,” said Compton. “I finished, that was good. I just can’t go hard. I tried, not having too bad of a start but also knowing I couldn’t go out that hard.
“I was someplace towards the back, in the middle maybe. Then I felt a little better about halfway through — but then I had an asthma attack with one to go. So I had to stop and regroup. And then I could keep going and finish that last lap.
“Today I just needed to finish. As long as I did that I knew I was going to get third [in the World Cup overall]. So that was kind of the goal. But it’s hard to swallow. It’s good to get third — had I not, it would have been even more disappointing.”
Fast and faster
Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) bolted off the front of the men’s field from the gun, chased by Pauwels and Van der Poel. Then Van der Poel took over at the front and almost instantly opened a seven-second gap on the muddy circuit. In short order he was completely out of sight.
As the first lap ended Van der Poel was already 15 seconds ahead of a chase featuring Sunweb teammates Pauwels and Tim Merlier. A lap later, Vermeersch had moved into second, 24 seconds down on the leader.
With six to go Van der Poel led Vermeersch by 33 seconds as Van Aert fronted a bigger chase a minute down.
Van Aert got away from that group during the lap and took over sole possession of third, pursued by Pauwels. The World Cup leader caught on, and with a half hour gone and five laps remaining Van der Poel remained alone out front, despite a bobble. Vermeersch was losing ground at 43 seconds while Van Aert and Pauwels were at 1:04.
Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink), Van der Haar and Francis Mourey (FDJ) linked up with Van Aert and Pauwels, adding horsepower to the chase until Pauwels dumped it in a corner and briefly sprung Van der Haar free.
The race for second
With four to go Van der Poel was nearly a minute ahead of Vermeersch, with the second chase a further half-minute in arrears, having retrieved Van der Haar.
A lap later, Vermeersch was clinging to second at 1:08 with a resurgent Van Aert closing in some 10 seconds behind.
Van der Poel dropped his chain and had to dismount to fix it, but he had plenty of time to effect repairs. Behind, Pauwels had bridged to the Van Aert-Vermeersch chase.
Two to go saw Van der Poel still on his own, with the chasing trio battling for second at 1:18.
Come bell lap the pursuit remained a race for second with Van Aert on the front and Pauwels bringing up the rear. Then Van Aert accelerated away from the others and took over the runner-up spot, leaving Vermeersch and Pauwels to fight for third.
Van der Poel grabbed a Dutch banner at the line and celebrated his victory before the home crowd with a flag wave and a fist pump. Van Aert followed at 1:04 for second, while Vermeersch coasted across ahead of Pauwels for third at 1:21.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Van der Poel. “It was a very hard and long race for me to ride all by myself. It was very difficult.”
Van Aert said he got off to a poor start, and with Van der Poel already off the front he found himself racing for second.
“I was not really good in the beginning. Afterwards I was not really bad, but Mathieu was stronger. A lot stronger,” he said.