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Cyclocross

Here’s what Van Aert, Van Empel, Van der Poel said after UCI World Cup cyclocross in Antwerp

'There are going to be some battles' — here's what the cyclocross stars said after Sunday's sandy sprint in Antwerp.

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It was the clash of the “Big Three” in both the men’s and women’s rounds of the UCI cyclocross World Cup in Antwerp in Sunday.

Mathieu van der Poel took honors in the season’s first big race against Wout Van Aert and Tom Pidcock, while Fem van Empel was back in the winner’s circle after battling some familiar faces in the women’s race.

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Here’s what the stars said after Sunday’s UCI cyclocross World Cup in Antwerp:

Mathieu Van der Poel, 1st men’s race

Van der Poel powers to victory in the clash of the ‘Big Three’ on Sunday in Antwerp. (Photo: DAVID PINTENS/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images)

“It can always be better and that will be necessary, because Wout was also strong right away and he will also be even better at Christmas. Those will be duels.

“I felt OK despite the crash Saturday, and it didn’t bother me too much during the race. I cannot recall making a mistake today. It was a pretty OK race. I felt good. I was able to get a good gap and maintain it, so I am pretty happy with today. I think it’s going to be a few really nice races in the busy period between all of us.

“That’s a pity, to be honest. I just got into the rhythm and now I have to get out again,” he said of an upcoming training camp in Spain. “But that’s part of it. I also want a good basis for the classic spring, because that is also very important to me. And we are sticking to the schedule.”

Fem Van Empel, 1st in women’s race

Familiar faces on the final podium Sunday in Antwerp. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

“The first part didn’t go well. I had very cold hands and so shifting and braking was a bit difficult. The focus was not there. In the second part I felt good again and I was able to ride my own cross. That was enough for the win. I am very happy with that.

“I really had to pick myself up in the beginning. I caught my breath a few times. Fortunately, I was able to continue well in the second part and take the victory.

“In the month of November, the focus was on training. We are now in December and I am very happy to be back in the race for the win, although the past races were not bad either.”

Puck Pieterse, 2nd in women’s race

“Fem was a bit stronger today. I decided to start fast because I wanted to be the first through the sand. That would give you free seconds. Then I tried to pull it through, but I got tired.

“It went well, but at one point a gap opened up. I saw too big a gap just before the sand strip, so I lost a few seconds and then Fem flew. We have seen that Fem drives around super. This is also a round for her.”

Wout Van Aert, 2nd in men’s race

Van Aert started fast, but couldn’t counter Van der Poel late. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

“I did not expect this. And also not that I was going to keep up this pace for the whole race, so I’m happy with that.

“As usual, [Van der Poel] put down a super fast lap, then you have to be at your best to stay around. But I soon understood that his pace was much too fast. It’s nice that I was able to hold off the rest.

“Once I fell over the bars. That was a pity. But I forgot to train for that, so that’s something for the next few weeks. I was in control for the rest of the game. I drove a little under my limit to avoid mistakes. But Mathieu went way too fast. I quickly knew that I had to focus on second place.

“I feel much better than expected. My pace was very steady and that’s good. Now I have to build that up. I now have five, six weeks of training in my legs. Add another five or six weeks to that and I’ll be a different athlete. I will now train hard in the coming weeks to compete for a win during the Christmas period.”

Michael Vanthourenhout, 3rd men’s race

“I didn’t expect this, it was a surprise for me to be on the podium. If I had tried following Van der Poel, I would have blown myself up. It was better to keep my pace. I have never ridden so well through the sand. I am very satisfied with this. Wout also encountered, but his basic pace was too high. I tried to follow him, but I made a mistake. Third was therefore the highest possible. I am happy with that.

“This is also good for ranking in the World Cup and toward the upcoming competitions. My season has been very good so far. Tomorrow I’m going to Spain for two weeks. It’s good to get some exercise. But I’m also looking forward to Dublin, Val di Sole and the other races after that.”

Only Pidcock was missing from the podium in the clash of the “Big Three.” (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)