Mathieu van der Poel started his ‘cross season as he means to go on – with victory.
Denise Betsema won the women’s race to take her third win of the year, having held off a fierce late chase from Lucinda Brand.
In the men’s race, van der Poel had looked like he was going to ride solo to victory as early as lap 2 after he broke away from Iserbyt when the pair scrapped at the front of the pack. The Dutchman soon built over 10 seconds of a lead, even maintaining his gap when he fell from his bike in a deep, sandy section.
After such a red hot start, van der Poel began to fade in lap 4 as Iserbyt bridged to him, with a chasing trio of Quinten Hermans, Laurens Sweeck, and Michael Vanthourenhout also making contact a few minutes later.
Iserbyt and Van der Poel again went off the front again on the fifth lap, distancing Hermans, Sweeck, and Vanthourenhout. Meanwhile, behind them, Tom Pidcock and Toon Aerts slowly worked their way through the pack to come toward the front of the chasers.
Like he did on lap 2, van der Poel was able to power away from Iserbyt heading into the sixth lap to gain a slight gap. A slight stumble from Iserbyt in the sandy section shortly afterward opened the gap further, leaving van der Poel to ride clear to victory.
“I felt very good,” van der Poel said. “It went better than expected. I was pretty good from the start, but a spring broke when I crashed. After that, I couldn’t ride so fast through the sand. From there it was good. I didn’t feel like I was on the limit – I still had something left when I was in Iserbyt’s wheel.”
Behind the lead pair, Pidcock and Aerts battled for third on the podium, with the young Brit able to hold back a final lap challenge from the Belgian to seal third place.
In the women’s race, Betsema held off a furious final lap chase from Brand to take her third victory of the season, with Annemarie Worst placing third. Betsema’s victory broke Brand’s four-race winning streak.
“I always go for the win, but the ladies are very close to each other, and Brand is currently a little a better right now,” Betsema said after her win. “The upcoming races will be very exciting, but of course I’m going for the win again.”
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado was taken out of contention in the third lap as a mechanical far away from the pits left her running a long section to get assistance. The world champion had been well in the mix in a lead group with Brand, Worst, Betsema, and Yara Kastelijn, but the huge time loss left her far out of the action through the second half of the race.
Betsema took the lead late in lap 3, attacking the lead quartet through the sand. Once she had split away from the group, she was never caught again, gaining up to 10 seconds on Brand, who led the chase.
Betsema looked the most technically-proficient through the back half of the race, riding for longer through the sand and steep climbs where others were forced to run. It was only in the final lap that the Pauwels-Sauzen-Bingoal rider looked to be faltering, with a handful of small errors in the final circuit allowing Brand to come to within three seconds of her rival.
However, despite her furious final chase, Brand ran out of time in catching Betsema, who held on to take the win by five seconds.
“I felt Brand’s breath behind me because I knew she was racing well,” Bestema said. “I’ve tried to play it safe and not make mistakes. I made a mistake on the climb, but then I pushed hard. This victory was coming my way, so it’s nice to finish it today. ”
Cyclocross veteran Katie Compton was the first American home in 16th, with Clara Honsinger, Kaitie Keough, and 18-year-old Boulder native Madigan Munro following in the next 15 positions.
Van der Poel, Iserbyt, Brand, and many of the others that raced in Antwerp on Saturday will return to action Sunday at Superprestige Gavere.