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Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) took a memorable win in the cyclocross World Cup in Namur, beating pre-race favorite Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) on one of the toughest courses in the sport on Sunday.
After his dramatic win Saturday in Rucphen, Pidcock looked to be on course for victory again, but two late crashes and an imperturbable Vanthourenhout were to deny the Briton.
World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt finished in 5th place and maintains a healthy lead in the overall ranking, with 358 points. His friend and team-mate Vanthourenhout is second on 268.
— GCN Racing (@GcnRacing) December 19, 2021
The start sent the riders straight up a steep cobbled hill. It was Quinten Hermans (Tormans Circus) and Toon Aerts (Trek Baloise Lions) who were fastest away from the start.
As in Rucphen, Pidcock had to work his way up from a third-row starting position. By the time Pidcock had got into the middle of the front group, Aerts had gone off the front. Perhaps sensing that his teammate Iserbyt wasn’t on a good day, Vanthourenhout led the chase. Pidcock looked sprightly as he followed Vanthourenhout.
Aerts loves a tough course, and had unfinished business with this one. Two years ago he was in contention for the win when he crashed on a descent and fractured a rib. Aerts has finished on the podium in Namur three times – his ambition to win today was written on his face.
Luck again deserted Aerts. On the third lap he crashed on a short precipitous descent and by the halfway point his gap was only five seconds.
Pidcock led the chase. The connection was made on the first off-camber section on the fourth lap. Aerts’ second crisis came when he suffered a front wheel puncture, allowing Pidcock to ride away on the cobbled climb.
With Aerts out of contention, the race seemed to be set up for a duel between Pidcock and Vanthourenhout. But two mistakes by the Olympic MTB champion put Vanthourenhout into the driving seat.
Perhaps suffering from Saturday’s race, Pidcock looked fatigued over the last two laps. In contrast, Vanthourenhout was riding on nervous energy as he headed for a career-topping win on a “classic” course.
Pidcock can’t stay on his bike and falls in a descent! The road to victory lies open for Vanthourenhout. Final lap now! 📺 Follow the action 👉 https://t.co/vCgxvBnXBU #CXWorldCup pic.twitter.com/iLEhlL01v8
— UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (@UCIcyclocrossWC) December 19, 2021
“At the end I believed in myself,” Vanthourenhout said after. “I saw Tom was strong in the climbs but in the off-camber sections I was one of the strongest in the race. I didn’t notice that Tom had made mistakes behind me, I just focused on my own race. This is the biggest victory of my career.”
For the riders and their teams Christmas is a short-lived holiday.
The World Cup resumes in Dendermonde on the 26th December and fans will be relishing the prospect of the first three-way battle between Pidcock, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
Dendermonde is a traditional Flandrian field ‘cross, staged in a big farmer’s field. Last year it was an epic mudder. Dendermonde also marks the beginning of the busy “Kerstperiode,” the most intense part of the ‘cross calendar, cramming in four C1 races and two World Cups over eight days. With plenty of start money (for the C1s) and prize money (World Cups) on offer this is a lucrative period for professional riders. For the Belgian fans, mostly on holiday, it’s a great opportunity to indulge in a few glasses of gluhwein whilst getting splashed with mud by a famous rider.
UCI Cyclocross World Cup Namur elite men’s results
1. Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): 59.28
2. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers): +:36
3. Toon Aerts (Trek Baloise Lions): +:51
4. Quinten Hermans (Tormans Circus): +1:38
5. Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +2:01