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The Dutch dominated the opening race of the busy festive cyclocross calendar Tuesday.
Marianne Vos rode away from a lead pack to win the first race of her ‘cross season on the tight circuit of the Ethias Cross, while Mathieu van der Poel maintained his winning momentum from Namur to ride to a confident victory in the men’s race.
Vos hit the ground running in her first ‘cross race since January, punching from the middle of the starting grid to launch herself into contention in the opening lap. The 33-year-old eventually rode away from a lead group of six on the penultimate lap to take her second consecutive victory on the Essen course.
“I had to go deep, but it went well,” Vos said. “The start gave confidence and hope for the rest of the race. I was able to move up lap by lap and I went beyond expectations. I only really got the feeling come back in the last lap. Today was good enough for a win.”
Yara Kastelijn and Anna Kay had led the race through the opening laps before a group of Marion Nortbert Riberolle, Perrine Clauzel, Blanka Kata Vas and Inge van der Heijden bridged across to form a group of six at the front of the race.
Having been in the front of the action from the very first lap, Kastelijn’s race came to an untimely end when her chain jammed in her frame on lap four, leaving her wrestling to pull it out for several minutes.
Having refound her ‘cross legs through the opening four laps, Vos hit out toward the end of the tight, technical circuit, powering off the front of the lead group to take a 5-6 second gap.
Clauzel launched a fierce solo chase, a handful of seconds in front of the pursuing pack, though Vos remained faultless to take the win, leaving Clauzel to claim second-place a few seconds behind her. Van der Heijden took third place.
American talent Clara Honsinger found herself stuck mid-pack from early in the race and was unable to make it across to the lead group. The U.S. national champ finished 11th.
Vos will race again Wednesday at the X20 Trofee Herentals, where season standouts Lucinda Brand and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado will both be riding, having sat out the Ethias Cross.
“Herentals will be a different story,” Vos said. “It’s difficult to put an expectation on it, because I don’t know where I am against the others. Lucinda Brand is having a good series, Alvarado and Worst have already shown themselves. There is a large group that achieves a high level. I am not sure where I stand, but I will try to find my place.”
The world champion accelerated away from the lead group midway through the race and time trialed through the slippy mud to take a faultless victory. Quinten Hermans took second, Tom Pidcock third.
“This was a course where I could do my thing,” van der Poel said. “There were only a few parts where you could ride through, the rest was really technical. I am satisfied. Namur and Gavere were very difficult races, so this was very welcome.”
“I tried to take the victory as economically as possible because it is a busy period with Herentals again tomorrow,” Van der Poel added.
Hermans and Laurens Sweeck had taken the lead in the opening lap, a split second ahead of a large group that included Pidcock and van der Poel. The Belgian duo together clipped away from the lead bunch in the following laps before van der Poel and Pidcock bridged across on lap four, forming a lead quartet.
Shortly after making contact at the front, Pidcock slipped in the greasy mud of the rain-soaked course, staying on his feet but losing the wheel of the leaders, leaving him a few seconds off the pace.
Van der Poel made his move on lap five, accelerating away from Sweeck and Hermans, neither of whom had the sheer power to match the dominant Dutchman, who went rampaging away ahead of them.
Sweeck and Hermans rode together until lap seven, at which point Sweeck punctured and was forced into the pits, leaving Pidcock to move into third place, around 15 seconds behind Hermans.
Heading into the final lap, the gaps between van der Poel, Hermans, and Pidcock remained static and there was no change from there on as van der Poel rode to the third win of his four-race season.