Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace Cycling Team) rode to a solo win at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup Koksijde on Saturday.
The Belgian rode ahead of Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) about halfway through the race, and he never looked back — or slowed down. Van Aert finished the race alone, crossing the line 42 seconds faster than Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) and 53 ticks ahead of van der Poel.
“It was pretty amazing to cross the finish line alone, with a big gap in front of the others,” said Van Aert. “I never thought that before the race I could finish the race that way, but it’s incredible to win the race.”
When Van Aert and van der Poel were at the front, a large group battled for third place on the sandy course. As the race wore on, however, the field began to stretch out.
Van der Poel faded, which allowed Pauwels to surge past him with a handful of laps remaining. The chase was on from there, but Pauwels, who hails from Belgium, was unable to reach Van Aert.
With riders still vying for third behind him, Pauwels kept up his chase and was able to hold off the charging racers to grab second.
“I didn’t know the guys were gone,” Pauwels said referring to Van Aert and Van der Poel. “I suddenly found out Van Aert was leading by 35 seconds!
“The [World Cup leader’s] jersey was the most important today. It’s good Mathieu was in between me and the rest. … Once I attacked, I also didn’t know Mathieu was there. I had a pretty good lap, but I think Wout was much stronger”
Van Aert dedicated his win to Belgian racer Niels Albert, who retired abruptly in May with a heart condition. Albert is now the sport director for Van Aert’s Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace Cycling Team.
“It’s a really special race for my team leader Niels Albert,” Van Aert said. “Before the race he asked me to do something special, and this victory is for him.
“He always gives me advice, so that’s not a big difference. But today he has the experience in this race on how to win it. He won it at the worlds and also last year. So he knows how to control the race when you’re alone in the front. And that’s the most difficult part of the race, you have a gap, but you have to hold on that gap. And you can only do that if you find the right rhythm, and that worked out perfectly.”
The course is known for its very difficult sandy sections. With huge ruts from the other races happening at Koksijde, only a few riders could ride the soft sand, while many ran. If there wasn’t anyone around them, they had a decent chance of making it. But riders in groups were forced to dismount and either shoulder their bike or push it.
Van Aert, the reigning under-23 world champion, won the Koppenbergcross round of the Bpost Bank Trofee series in early November.
“I’m still very young, and I can win races like this right now, and I hope I can win more races in the future,” Van Aert said. “Now it’s too soon after the race to make big statements, but this is a great start of my career with two big victories [in Koksijde and on the Koppenberg] in one month, and I hope the rest of the season I can hold on this kind of shape.”
Earlier on Saturday, another young rider, 16-year-old American Gage Hecht won the junior race in Koksijde. He finished ahead of two Belgians, Alessio Dhoore and Stefano Museeuw.
Dan Seaton contributed to this report.