Van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) came back from an 18-second deficit to overhaul Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions) in an epic battle that was ultimately decided by who could best handle the conditions. Similarly, Lucinda Brand (Telenet Baloise Lions) won after fighting Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Corendon-Circus) much of the women’s race.
The Namur course in Belgium is famed for being one of the toughest in elite ‘cross racing, with steep off-camber sections, sharp climbs, and twisting technical descents. Heavy rain fell through the women’s race as deep puddles and even deeper mud accumulated through the day. The freezing conditions added to this to push riders to the limits, with several of the men finishing the race totally shivering and dazed.
Brand was able to best handle the slimy course as heavy rain fell through the women’s race, taking her second-straight victory in Namur.
The race was filled with crashes that dictated the action. Annemarie Worst (777) led the pack through the first lap, with Alvarado and Brand chasing. The race leader fell in lap 2, allowing Alvarado and Brand to come through.
From there, the race came down to a cotnest between Alvarado and Brand. Brand led the pair and piled on the pressure, with Alvarado looking less comfortable on the slick descents and off-camber banks. Brand’s pressure eventually forced a mistake from Alvarado, who slipped in the close of lap 2, allowing Brand a slim advantage.
Brand built a solid lead through lap 3, with Alvarado chasing hard but unable to gain time, around 10 seconds back. Worst chased behind her, a further 20 seconds behind. Worst struggled with the conditions all race, crashing again on lap 4.
Brand looked faultless all race, though her form lapsed in the final lap, causing her to hit the deck. She was soon back on the bike, though it allowed Alvarado to cut 10 seconds out of her lead.
Brand continued on to the win, though Alvarado kept the pressure on through the final lap, finishing 16 seconds back. Worst finished third, 1:21 behind Brand.
Anna Kay took fourth. Katerina Nash was able to maintain her series lead over Alvarado with her fifth-place.
The heavy rain stopped for the men’s race, but by then the course was in tatters, with hub-deep puddles, and streams of water running through the muddy climbs.
Aerts led for the first laps, with van der Poel leading the chase. The world champion bridged across by lap 3 and the pair led through the middle of the race. Behind them, Tom Pidcock (Trinity) and Corne van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions) led the chase.
Pidcock distanced van Kessel on lap 5, and led a solid chase of the lead pair, who were around 30 seconds ahead.
Van der Poel was able to capitalize on a mistake from Aerts in lap 6 and take the lead, but was forced into the pits by a mechanical that allowed Aerts to edge ahead. Once Aerts took the lead he rapidly built on it, and through lap 7, was 18-seconds ahead.
It all fell apart for Aerts in the final laps however. First, the Belgian crashed and paused at the bottom of a steep muddy descent, allowing van der Poel to re-gain contact.
With the leaders now elbow-to-elbow, Aerts grounded a pedal at the start of the last lap and lost ground. In his desperate chase, Aerts crashed hard into the barriers, hitting his face. This second error allowed van der Poel a strong lead as Aerts lost composure and form.
Once van der Poel had the lead, he battled hard to build on it, and crossed the line shouting in celebration of a victory that seemed to mean a lot to him. Aerts finished in second, 55 seconds behind, looking ashen.
Pidcock had been close to catching Aerts in lap 9, but the young Brit lost his podium slot in the closing lap, allowing van Kessel to take third.
- Lucinda Brand (Telenet Baloise Lions): 0:45:05
- Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Corendon-Circus): +0:00:16
- Annemarie Worst (777): +0:01:21
- Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus): 1:05:59:
- Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions): +0:00:55
- Corne van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions): +0:01:14