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Monday’s World Cup saw Van der Poel master the extra-tough Gavere circuit in a race that brought steep climbs, technical descents, and masses of deep, sticky mud.
Shirin van Anrooij ripped to victory over teammate Lucinda Brand in the women’s race to hand Baloise-Trek Lions a Christmas one-two on the prestigious Belgian course. See more below.
For Van der Poel, victory was all the sweeter after he was left disappointed and searching for answers when Van Aert blew him away in Friday’s CX Mol.
“I really wanted to win. After Mol, I really wasn’t satisfied. I was determined to do a good result today,” Van der Poel said at the finish Monday.
“This course is really hard, but technical. For me, it was a nice race, with lots of people, and I’m very happy with my victory.”
The “classic” Gavere ‘cross course didn’t disappoint Monday.
Hundreds of beered-up Belgians came out to watch an afternoon of high-thrills racing on a hilly course laden with thick, rutted mud. The boggy quagmire saw riders churning huge gears and constantly shifting between riding and running on the crushingly difficult circuit.
The dynamic of the men’s race changed with every lap.
The 2020 Gavere winner Pidcock was first to get clear air before Van der Poel and Van Aert chased back as a pair.
Van der Poel was next to go away on the third lap of six and looked to be on a winning tear while Pidcock led the chase.
Van Aert began to make a comeback, and both he and Pidcock briefly came to within seconds of Van der Poel in the middle of the race.
But Van der Poel – who had already won in Gavere four times – never ceded his lead as he bounced back from disappointment in Mol earlier this week. The four-time elite world champ plowed away for a 27-second victory and some serious bragging rights ahead of a series more Christmas ‘cross clashes between the sport’s “big three.”
The big gear churn saw Pidcock start to suffer at the turn of the final lap, and the Brit fell away to third. Van Aert made a huge effort to bridge back to Van der Poel in the final circuit and he also almost visibly blew up after opening the taps a little too far.
Van Aert and Pidcock finished second and third respectively, both visibly exhausted.
“I never felt like I was in the mix for victory today,” Van Aert said. “From the start, I was chasing and never in the rhythm I wanted to have. I must be happy today with second place, it was the highest possible for me.”
Belgian ‘cross champion Van Aert saw a hero’s welcome on the Flandrien course. Monday’s race was one of the last times he will wear the national tricolor on home soil after he confirmed he will bypass the Belgian championships.
“It was still a really nice day out with so many crowds and a world championship atmosphere,” he said. “Even though the legs weren’t really responding, I still fought for all the fans.”
Laurens Sweeck finished sixth, enough to retain his lead on the World Cup standings.
Shirin van Anrooij beats back Lucinda Brand in prestigious team one-two
The women’s race saw 20-year-old sensation Shirin van Anrooij fend off a late comeback from 33-year-old Baloise-Trek Lions teammate Lucinda Brand and secure her third victory of the season.
Brand had looked poised to set the final lap into a two-way thriller after she clawed back a huge gap to her young teammate at the start of the circuit.
The two went wheel-to-wheel for a few sectors before Brand blew and fell off the pace in a ride that didn’t deliver victory but marked a major comeback from her early season injury.
“It was super hard,” Van Anrooij said. “I was just riding my own lines. I felt really strong but in the third lap on the long climb I tried to ride my bike for too long and my legs were just empty. Then I decided to just run almost everywhere which was almost easier for me, but it was super hard.”
With second place in both Gavere on Monday and in last week’s race in Mol, Brand is hoping to have turned a corner on a season derailed by a broken hand.
“I’m happy to be back on the podium of a World Cup,” she said. “I still hope I can improve more but this is a good point to work from.”
Season sensation Puck Pieterse suffered bad legs and bad luck through the start of the ‘cross but turned it around with a blazing final lap to fill out the third step on the podium. Junior world champion Zoe Bäckstedt saw her best World Cup finish with fourth.
It seems that Pieterse forgot to change bikes in the pitzone, her wheel can no longer spin because there is too much mud attached. 😲 She is riding in 5️⃣th place now, 40 seconds behind Van Anrooij#CXWorldCup pic.twitter.com/5NO83Lsrmc
— UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (@UCIcyclocrossWC) December 26, 2022
Fem van Empel wasn’t racing but still retains her spot at the top of the World Cup ranking. The UCI’s series resumes in Zonhoven on January 8.
Stay tuned to VeloNews this week for further coverage of Christmas ‘cross racing.