Wout Van Aert turned in another dominant performance on Sunday, winning a muddy Flandriencross at Hamme.
The race was the third round of the Bpost Bank Trofee series.
The Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace rider got away on the very first lap and stayed gone to take the win in 58:26, with Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) second at 18 seconds and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) third at 1:04.
“I am proud of this victory,” said Van Aert, who padded his overall lead in the timed Bpost series. “I immediately got a small lead because someone behind me made a mistake. For me that was the signal to pass through the intermediate sprint to pick up the extra seconds. Then I switched to a pace that I could sustain.”
The chase changed characters throughout, with Nys, Pauwels, Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) and world champion Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) all in contention for second, but the leader remained unchanged.
With four laps remaining Van Aert led Nys by 16 seconds with van der Poel, Pauwels and van der Haar a few seconds further down.
It was almost status quo next time through, with Nys pegged at 16 seconds and van der Poel and Pauwels at twice that, with van der Haar gapped. Then Pauwels gave it some stick and got away from the rainbow jersey.
With two to go Van Aert was keeping Nys at bay, with Pauwels firmly in third and van der Poel 45 seconds down.
Van Aert slid out going into the staircase run, but got a foot down and stayed upright. Nys gained a few seconds, but no more than a few. And he lost them again slipping off the high line on a long, muddy off-camber section.
Come bell lap Van Aert showed no signs of slowing down. Nys was mired in second, 14 seconds down, with Pauwels a distant third at 48 seconds.
Indeed, the young Belgian actually padded his advantage on that final go-round. He was 18 seconds better than Nys at the line.
“I’m satisfied with my race,” said Nys. “The first two laps I lost time. I had had to be patient in the pursuit because passing other riders was not easy. Once in second position I could drive an even pace, but the gap did not close. And going into overdrive does not make sense. Then you make mistakes.”
Nys added: “Hats off to what [Van Aert] is showing here. I have made every effort to put him under pressure. This was cross at its best.”
As for Pauwels, he said Van Aert and Nys “were just better.”
The Sunweb rider said he had trouble riding the crucial off-camber section despite a strong start.
“I had a good start but had already in the first lap I had problems on the off-camber,” he said. “I had a pretty good day and I have done the maximum. They were just better.”
Van Aert now leads the Bpost series with a time of 2:56:46. Pauwels sits second at 2:19 with van der Haar third at 2:45.
The next round of the Bpost Bank Trofee series will be December 5 at Essen.