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Cyclocross

Superprestige Diegem: Wout van Aert proves best once more in close battle of ‘Big Three’

Puck Pieterse holds lead wire to wire in the women's elite race.

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In another Christmas-time ‘cross battle of the “big three,” Wout van Aert proved victorious in a hard fought race at Superprestige Diegem, the Belgian’s second victory in as many days.

Cyclocross’ cast of familiar top riders quickly made themselves known at the evening race in Diegem, Belgium, on Wednesday.

Perennial contender Eli Iserbyt joined road stars Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, and Tom Pidcock on the first lap, and the four distanced the rest of the field early.

On the second of eight laps, Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) put in an effort through the sand pit to distance Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Pidcock (Ineos-Grenadiers), establishing a multiple-second gap. The duo would catch back on, however, and this same sequence would play out multiple more times over the next laps.

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The three split apart on the fifth lap after another Van der Poel acceleration. Van Aert fell to third behind Pidcock after a rough go through the sand pit. But both kept fighting and caught the Dutchman on the following lap. Then it was Van Aert who took a turn at the front, holding a gap into the seventh lap.

But once more Van der Poel and Pidcock caught back on. Pidcock then went on the offensive, distancing Van der Poel for good as he ran out of matches. “I didn’t have the legs to win,” said the Dutchman after the race, one that he had won the last six times in a row.

Pidcock’s move set up a final lap to remember.

The Briton led Van Aert into the final lap as the pair battled head to head, each trying to outwit the other, and the lead changing multiple times before an error from Pidcock gave Van Aert a slight gap with no time to recover.

Wout Van Aert celebrates at finish line as race winner ahead during the 46th Superprestige Cyclocross Diegem  on December 28, 2022 in Antwerpen, Belgium. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

“Today has shown again that it is close together,” Van Aert said after the finish. “The sand was my pain point in the beginning and that started playing in my head. I actually gave up and thought Mathieu had gone flying. But after that I still had Mathieu in sight. The race started back and I started to believe in it again.”

Van der Poel finished third, 33 seconds later.

Puck Pieterse takes women’s race in convincing fashion

Puck Pieterse had a less challenging battle on her hands in the women’s elite race at Superprestige Diegem.

The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider shot out to the race lead on the first lap and never let up, though victory wasn’t a sure thing the entire race.

“At a certain point I noticed that Shirin (van Anrooij) was getting close,” Pieterse said. “Should I hold back and then continue together? Or should I try again? But I knew my piece was coming, with the beams first and then a quick section down. Then I had a hole again.”

“I decided not to hesitate anymore and to go into the last two laps full gas,” Pieterse said. “I couldn’t ride in the sandbox, and I know Shirin is good in the sand. But then I was able to pull away again.”

Puck Pieterse celebrates at finish line as race winner during the 46th Superprestige Cyclocross Diegem on December 28, 2022 in Antwerpen, Belgium. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Pieterse would hang on to win by 30 seconds, doubling her gap to Van Anrooij over the final lap. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado rolled in a minute down on the leader for third.