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It has been nearly eight years since a non-Belgian or Dutch rider won a cyclocross World Cup. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) put that straight in Rucphen on Saturday, taking his first, and Britain’s first-ever, World Cup victory.
With a lap to go Pidcock seemed to be heading for third place behind Eli Iserbyt and Michael Vanthourenhout (both Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) but the British champion raced back into contention and passed Iserbyt on the final obstacle of the course.
Iserbyt now leads the overall World Cup ranking with 337 points. Toon Aerts is second on 228 points and Michael Vanthourenhout is in third on 226 points.
Both Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) were not racing Saturday.
— UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (@UCIcyclocrossWC) December 18, 2021
On a twisting and flat track the riders expected a fast race. The biggest technical challenge would be maintaining traction on the front tire on the repeated slippery corners.
European champion Lars van der Haar (Trek Baloise Lions) took the hole-shot, followed by David van der Poel (Alpecin Fenix). Pidcock, starting from the third row, was fortunate to avoid a crash on the first corner in which Daan Soete flew over the handlebars and blocked many riders behind him.
Riding his first professional ‘cross race mountain-biker Sam Gaze (Alpecin Fenix) made a good start, hovering just behind the first ten riders during the first lap. After the first lap Gaze began to slip backward but no doubt he was learning very quickly.
Pidcock picked off the riders in front of him and after 20 minutes made contact with the leading group. Swiftly going to the front of the group, the Briton put in a teasing attack. The Tormans-Circus pair of Quinten Hermans and Corne van Kessel took the responsibility to chase him down. On the fourth lap, Iserbyt stumbled on a quick dismount coming into a set of railway sleeper steps and fell hard. Once the adrenaline wears off his bruises may dent his ability to be competitive in tomorrow’s iconic race in Namur.
With no one able to make a significant move, ten riders were lined out at the front. Iserbyt, Pidcock and Vanthourenhout swapped the leading position between them. On the penultimate lap Iserbyt took the lead from Vanthourenhout and the pair pulled away. Pidcock was three seconds back with a lap to go and looked to be out of contention.
But the Yorkshire-bred rider is made of stronger stuff. Pidcock turned on the style during the final lap, sprinting hard out of every corner and closing the gap to the two men in front. First he passed Vanthourenhout then he closed up to Iserbyt’s back wheel.
At the barriers, with barely three hundred meters to go, Pidcock charged forward. His bunny-hopping technique gave him the lead, and with that momentum, he sprinted clear of Iserbyt for an historic win.
“I was losing a lot of time in the corners, struggling to keep up Eli and Michael,” Pidcock said afterward. “I was doing everything I could to stay with them. Coming into the barriers Eli backed off and I just thought ‘f**k it!’”
Aaaargh, so close! Fierce battle for the win, with a massive effort from @IserbytEli in the last lap! It’s a double podium finish for Eli and @vth_michael in the end 🥈🥉#CXWorldCup #Rucphen pic.twitter.com/IYT4If0HRF
— Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal (@PS_BG_CT) December 18, 2021
This is a double-header World Cup weekend. Tomorrow’s race in Namur, in the Walloon region of Belgium, is a prestigious mark on a rider’s palmarès.
Last year Mathieu Van Der Poel beat Wout Van Aert and Pidcock. With Van Der Poel and Van Aert both skipping the race this year, can Pidcock make it a double victory?
UCI Cyclocross World Cup Rucphen elite men’s results
1. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers): 1:03:26
2. Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +:03
3. Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +:08
4. Quinten Hermans (Tormans Circus): +:12
5. Lars van der Haar Trek Baloise Lions: +:15