Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) won the Azencross Loenhout cyclocross race in Belgium on Tuesday, the sixth round of the Bpost Bank Trofee series.
The 20-year-old Belgian finished 37 seconds ahead of teenage Dutch phenom Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus). Another young gun, 26-year-old Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), rounded out the podium in third, 2:01 behind.
The course featured sloppy conditions, with deep mud clogging up the parcours. Riders were hardly moving around the hairpin turns as they tried to stay upright in the thick mud.
Van Aert and van der Poel jumped to the front of the race early, and the pair rode together until the penultimate lap when van der Poel’s front wheel was momentarily stuck in a mud puddle. That set him back about 10 seconds, and he continued to lose time in the final minutes of racing. The 19-year-old, who won the icy Superpresige in Diegem on Sunday, appeared to be suffering from cold hands toward the end of the race.
“It was very hard, but also very fun,” van der Poel said. “It was a long time ago that I did such a muddy race and I really enjoyed it. There were too many people. It was just awesome to ride with just Wout and me, two young guys, at the front and all the people were crazy about the duel. It was very nice. Wout was riding for his GC and I was more for the win today, but the little mistake changed the plans. But I was really satisfied on such a heavy course. If you see the gap we had to third and the fourth [place] then it’s very nice.”
Van Aert’s lead was 16 seconds entering the final lap of seven. When he hit the finishing straight, he put his head down and pushed to the line.
“It was a really crazy course,” Van Aert said. “I’ve raced here for a long time with the youth categories, but I never saw the course like this today. It was really cold for the toes and the fingers because the ice water was really, really cold. It was very dangerous because there was a lot of water on the course and you can’t see what is there underneath. So it was very difficult, a very hard course.”
Belgian champion Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) was a few seconds behind the leaders after the first lap but suffered a rear flat on his second time around the course. He dropped back a bit but was able to make his way back to the chasers. He battled for third throughout the second half of the race but eventually finished eighth, 2:25 back.
Van Aert now leads the general classification of the Bpost Bank Trofee series, 4:45 ahead of Nys.
“It was very difficult because I need to keep pushing for the overall classification and Mathieu was always attacking for half a lap and it was hard for me to get with him,” Van Aert said. “In the last two laps I think I was a little bit better than him. I heard that he made a mistake in the second to last lap, and for me it was good to take also the victory. But for me the most important was the classification, and I was riding until the end just for the biggest time gap I could get.”
In the women’s race, Czech Republic national champion Katerina Nash (Luna) topped rival Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv), beating the world champion by 23 seconds.
“I had a really good ride,” Nash said. “It was a big day in the mud, you never knew what was going to happen in each corner. I’m really happy about how things worked out.”
Vos made no excuses, and simply said that Nash had been better on the day.
“I tried my best, but it was really hard circumstances,” Vos said. “I’m not the most powerful rider, and I had to let go Katerina in the second lap. Already in the first lap I couldn’t quite match her. In the third lap I saw I was closing in, so I tried by best, I gave it all, but she had an extra gear and powered away again.”
French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Rabo-Liv), who finished second to Vos in Diegem on Sunday, started the race in Loenhout but abandoned, citing the bad conditions. “I like cyclo-cross but not in this conditions! Too muddy for me. Not bad legs but no motivation! It’s why I DNF today,” she posted on Twitter, along with a few humorous emoticons.
Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea) finished third, 50 seconds back, to round out the women’s podium.
“I’m really, really happy. Marianne and Katerina are totally the world’s best, so to be behind them, it’s not a shame for me,” Van Loy said.
American national champion Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing) did not race.
In the junior men’s race, American Gage Hecht finished second, 40 seconds behind Dutch winner Roel van der Stegen.