Van Aert took a convincing win having ridden away from Mathieu van der Poel midway through the race, while Brand made it a World Cup hat-trick with another solo victory. U.S. national champion Clara Honsinger took second behind Brand as she continues to mark herself out as one of the new forces in the women’s peloton.
The race played out on a once-grassy course that had been drenched by torrential rain after a heavy storm battered northern Europe overnight.
The event was nearly canceled in the hours before the scheduled start as gale-force winds and buckets of rain continued to tear its way across Belgium. Both races were able to go ahead on schedule, but organizers were forced to cut a high man-made bridge from the course and remove finishing arches. The axle-deep puddles left by the storm saw riders sinking knee-deep in mud, catapulting over handlebars, and forced to run almost as much as they rode in one of the most attritional ‘crosses of the season.
Van Aert totally dominated the men’s race, taking his second victory in three outings, beating van der Poel by nearly three minutes.
“It was one of the most crazy courses I’ve ever done as a professional,” Van Aert said. “It got worse every lap and the running sections got longer and longer. It’s good we didn’t have youth category races before as otherwise it would have been all running. But I enjoyed it a lot.”
Van der Poel, Quinten Hermans, and Toon Aerts had traded the lead in the opening two laps of the race before Van Aert and van der Poel went off the front in the middle of the second lap.
Van Aert rode away from van der Poel in lap three as his strong running skills and powerful pedal stroke saw him master the waterlogged circuit. Over the course of the lap, the Belgian took more than 30 seconds over his rival while around 20 seconds behind van der Poel, a foursome of Hermans, Aerts, Corne van Kessel and Michael Vanthourenhout battled for third-place.
Heading into the sixth lap, Van Aert had over 90 seconds of a lead over van der Poel as Aerts chased the world champ solo.
While van der Poel looked to be fatiguing and becoming increasingly dejected through the final laps, Van Aert remained faultless, growing his lead with every circuit. The Belgian crossed the line with a victory margin of 2:46. Aerts came close to catching van der Poel in the final but was left to settle for third.
Tom Pidcock was one of many to abandon the race. The young Brit called it quits on lap six of nine.
In the women’s race, Brand came off strongest to take her third victory in three World Cups. Honsinger was next across the line having also taken second at World Cup Namur earlier this month.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado took third after being caught and dropped by Honsinger in the second half of the race.
“The course was mega heavy,” said Brand after the race. “I don’t know if you could make a fast pace here somewhere, but I didn’t find it. There was a lot of searching for your rhythm. At one point I switched to softer tires, maybe that made a difference.”
“I thought for a while, ‘I’m going to walk faster,’ because it was so difficult to get through,” Brand continued. “It only got worse.”
Brand got the first gap of the race in the opening lap as Alvarado and Honsinger battled back from slow starts.
Alvarado was able to fight through the pack to lead the chase of Brand on lap two with Yara Kastelijn and Sanne Cant also in contention. Alvarado bridged across to Brand and went straight off the front in the middle of the circuit before Brand pulled her back.
As the laps wore on, the grassy course turned into a swamp, forcing riders into running with the bike more and more. The storm-swept course saw riders repeatedly sinking into deep muddy holes, with Katie Compton getting stuck in a bog and losing a shoe in a sinkhole that also caught out a handful of other victims.
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Coming to the close of lap three, Alvarado and Brand were still locked together at the front until the world champ fell in a deep muddy puddle, leaving Brand to take around a 10-second gap.
Meanwhile, Honsinger has separated herself from a chase group of Kastelijn, Cant, Denise Betsema, and Annemarie Worst to take a strong lead in the race for third.
Honsinger hunted down Alvarado in the final lap as the youngster looked to be gaining confidence with every lap. The 23-year-old took a small gap over Alvarado when she opted to ride through a deep set of puddles that Alvarado chose to run through, looking labored and unable to hold the pace.
Honsinger continued to ride away from Alvarado through the final circuit and was able to close the gap to Brand by a few seconds, though the Dutchwoman already had enough of a buffer to win by 15 seconds. Honsinger took second, Alvarado third.