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Cyclocross

Tom Pidcock fends off Eli Iserbyt in Hulst to score second elite World Cup win

Wout van Aert finishes fourth after losing wedge of time in opening lap due to jammed chain, Iserbyt seals World Cup overall.

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British champion Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) took his second elite World Cup win in Hulst, Netherlands, beating long-time rival Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) on Sunday.

Jumbo-Visma star Wout van Aert’s race was torpedoed by a dropped chain within the first five minutes of the race.

Whilst the result confirms that Pidcock’s form is building towards the world championships, it was also significant for Iserbyt. He now has 405 points overall in the World Cup, with teammate Michael Vanthourenhout in second place on 310 points. With only 80 points on offer in the remaining two races, Iserbyt has therefore won the overall World Cup.

“I was feeling good at the start so I pushed on and got a gap,” Pidcock said. “Eli kept me close and at the end I made a few mistakes. I was thinking that if he does a big effort maybe he could close. On the last lap I couldn’t get into my big ring so I was being a bit cautious because I didn’t want to drop my chain.”

The old town at the center of Hulst is surrounded by a moat and steep grassy ramparts. The course is fast and technical, with firm ground and several sections of tarmac and cobbles, one of which goes straight through the centre of an ancient windmill. But it is the steep banks that made the difference. Many were only rideable if hit at exactly the right speed and line. Hesitation or a loss of momentum could be decisive.

Lars van der Haar (Trek Baloise Lions) led into the tight first technical sections. Behind him the bulk of the field were blocked in a pinch-point corner.

Not long after there was trouble too for van Aert. The Belgian champion dropped his chain on a steep bank and lost a lot of time as tried to dig it out.

Meanwhile, van der Haar and Iserbyt were stretching out the lead group. Having been on the blunt end of van Aert’s dominance over recent weeks, the riders could see an opportunity. The problem for van Aert was that much of the course only had one line, so moving up through traffic was frustratingly slow.

Pidcock learned about van Aert’s ability to chase back to the front after at GP Sven Nys Saturday, and the Brit didn’t want history to repeat itself in Hulst.

On the third lap he went to the front and his pressure despatched everyone except Iserbyt. Coming through the pits with a strong tailwind, Pidcock attacked hard, opening a small gap.

Through the middle of the race Iserbyt refused to admit defeat, riding tenaciously to hold Pidcock at his small gap. The British champion, however, rode a near faultless race and the gap to Iserbyt slowly widened.

By the last two laps van Aert knew that pursuing the win was a lost cause. On the last lap he overtook Toon Aerts (Trek-Baloise Lions) and finished in fourth place, a look of resignation on his face.

“My lucky number seven finished today,” he said afterward. “There was really no chance to battle for the win. I looked over the field and realised that fourth place was the best I could do, so that was my aim. This is the other side of racing and I didn’t want to just give up.”

The Jumbo-Visma rider’s focus will now switch to the Belgian championship next weekend. Then he has to decide whether or not to ride the world championships. If van Aert skips the trip to Arkansas the rainbow jersey could be another close battle between Iserbyt and Pidcock.

Hust top-5

1 Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers): +1.03.49
2 Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): +0.12
3 Lars van der Haar (Trek Baloise Lions): +0.33
4 Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma): +1.09
5 Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): +1.30