Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) is on a winning streak that dates back to early November when he won the European cyclocross championships. Wednesday’s World Cup round in Heusden-Zolder was victory #12 in that impressive run. Reigning world champion Wout van Aert (Cibel) was second ahead of youngster Joris Nieuwenhuis (Sunweb).
Van der Poel was content to let the first two laps play out on the fast, dry track. He sat at the back of the front group as Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal) and Toon Aerts (Telenet-Fidea) escaped.
Van Aert lost touch with the four-rider chase, making a bike change in the pits.
At the end of the second lap of racing, van der Poel swept up to the two leaders, indicating that he was merely biding his time with a subdued start.
It was only a matter of time before the Dutchman rode clear of Aerts and Vanthourenhout.
Around the race’s halfway point, Vanthourenhout jammed his chain and was forced to run to the pits, a setback for the chasers.
As Aerts faded out of second place, van Aert found his rhythm, bringing along Nieuwenhuis to chase van der Poel.
With two laps to go, van Aert dropped the under-23 world champion and stayed on the gas, keeping van der Poel within 30 seconds.
The trio finished in that order. For van der Poel, a win was practically a foregone conclusion. Van Aert continued his search for a way to challenge his Dutch rival. Nieuwenhuis, on the other hand, was thrilled to earn his first career World Cup podium in the elite category.
The World Cup resumes January 20 at Pont-Château, France.