Twenty-year-old phenom Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) soloed to victory at a muddy edition of the Grand Prix Rouwmoer cyclocross race in Essen, Belgium, Saturday, the fifth round of the 2014-15 Bpost Bank Trofee.
Van Aert took to the front early on the first lap, and never looked back. He was initially joined by his teammate, Rob Peeters, with Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) bridging across to form a lead group of three.
Belgian national champion Sven Nys (Crelan AA Drink), the Bpost series leader who returned to competition after a spell of poor form saw him retreat to Mallorca for training, sat in a large chase group, 11 seconds back after one lap.
After two laps, the leading trio had stretched its lead to 17 seconds, as those in the chase group began eyeing each other rather than pushing the pace.
Heading into the third lap, Van Aert picked up 15 seconds of time bonuses for the series classification, with Peeters taking 10 seconds, and Meeusen taking five.
On the third lap, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) rode clear of the lead chase group, attempting to bridge across to the leaders, while Nys could not maintain contact and drifted to the back of the chase.
After three laps, the trio’s lead over Pauwels was 12 seconds, while the main chase group was a full 29 seconds down.
On the fourth lap, Van Aert went solo as Pauwels made his way up to Peeters and Meeusen. That threat from behind promoted a reaction from Meeusen, who rode away from Peeters.
Heading into the fifth lap, Van Aert held an 11 seconds over Meeusen, with Peeters caught by Pauwels a few seconds behind; Nys trailed almost a full minute down.
With four laps remaining, Van Aert continued to push the pace, alone at the front, with Meeusen chasing alone, followed by Pauwels, with Peeters on his wheel.
With three to go, Meeusen sat 37 seconds back of Van Aert, with Pauwels and Peeters 51 seconds down.
With two laps to go, Van Aert’s lead stretched to 42 seconds as it became clear that Meeusen was racing for second place.
Van Aert crossed the finish line on the final lap with a massive 58-second lead over Meeusen, with Pauwels and Peeters a full 1:30 down.
At the finish, Van Aert’s lead was 1:06 over Meeusen, with Peeters in third, 1:40 back, and Pauwels fourth, at 1:50.
With the win, the U23 world champion also took the Bpost series lead, 1:50 ahead of Nys, with Pauwels in third, at 1:56.
Nys, who had led the series, finished the race in 13th, 2:50 down, prompting his team manager, Jan Verstraeten, to tell Sporza, “Nys is still not as he should be. We will continue to look for the cause.”
Several top riders were absent, including 19-year-old star Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus). Belgian Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) sat out the race due to illness.
World champion Zdenek Stybar, who lives in Essen, has historically used the Essen race as his return to racing after a long road season, but after a shoulder injury in October, Stybar has opted to sit out the remainder of the season. Still, the world champion wrote on Twitter Saturday that it “hurt” not to be on the start line.
In the women’s race, Dutch rider Sophie De Boer (Kalas-NNOF) defeated Belgian national champion Sanne Cant. American Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing) did not compete, while American Arley Kemmerer finished 13th, 3:27 down.
Laurens Sweeck (Corendon-Kwadro) won the U23 race, 18 seconds ahead of Michael Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games).
In the junior race, American Brannan Fix finished fourth, 29 seconds behind winner Roel van der Stegen; American Cooper Willsey was 10th, 1:12 down.
On Sunday, the sport’s best racers will compete in Namur, Belgium, for the fourth round of the UCI World Cup series. World champion Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) will make her return to the World Cup circuit.
The Bpost Bank Trofee series resumes on December 30, with the Azencross in Loenhout.