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Cyclocross

Wout van Aert goes solo through the snow to win cyclocross World Cup in Val di Sole

Van Aert takes third win in three races after riding away from the bunch in the opening laps.

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Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) put on another devastating demonstration of power and technique Sunday, winning the Val di Sole cyclocross World Cup by 49 seconds over Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), at 1.28.

World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt finished in fourth-place and now has 307 points in the overall World Cup, 101 points ahead of Toon Aerts (Trek Baloise Lions).

With none of the riders having raced a full-blown snow course before, their teams were faced with a technical challenge. Racing on snow and ice is all about staying upright and finding opportunities to lay down power.

Tire choice was critical – some opted for file treads that increased the surface area of rubber on snow, others preferred the grip of mud tires like the trusted Challenge Grifos. The riders used their longest and most aggressive studs on their shoes to avoid any slips when running. The course was designed to test the riders and to show off their bike-handling skills.

Vanthourenhout made the most of his front-row position on the grid, going into an early lead. But as soon as van Aert extricated himself from the group he was able to start laying down the power.

On the long run-up at the back of the circuit Van Aert’s road-based engine meant that he was able to ride for longer, and on the repeated snowy banks that made a big difference. Van Aert caught and passed Vanthourenhout by the end of the first lap and set about widening his lead.

After splashing through a Belgian bog to win the Ethias Cross in Essen yesterday, van Aert looked just as much at home in the snow and ice of Val Di Sole.

On the third lap van Aert stumbled on a tricky dismount in deep snow. The delay allowed Vanthourenhout to briefly catch him but it wasn’t long before the Belgian champion had once again pulled out a gap. Behind, Pidcock had taken a little longer to dial in the course, but once he got into his groove Pidcock accelerated away from Quinten Hermans (Tormans-Circus), then caught and passed Iserbyt.

As well as intense racing, today’s event showed off the enthusiasm of ‘cross fans outside the Low Countries. Michael Vanthourenhout was impressed with the atmosphere:

“It was very special,” he said. “Just like in America the cheering was for every rider. In Belgium it is only for one rider, but here the crowd cheered for everyone, which is good.’

Cyclocross has seen many snowy races over the years but today’s race was the first to be organized with the specific purpose of holding a race on snow. As well as the stated aim of showing off cyclocross’s potential as a Winter Olympic sport, today’s race also reinvigorated the geographical expansion of cyclocross.

Italy has a strong grassroots cyclocross scene but its inclusion in the World Cup has been sporadic, with some events plagued by financial difficulties and lack of spectators. By joining forces with Val Di Sole’s team, experienced in staging mountain bike and skiing events, Flanders Classics hope to build a more sustainable future.

Closer at hand, ‘cross fans are eagerly anticipating the return of World Champion Mathieu van der Poel at next Saturday’s World Cup in Rucphen, Netherlands. Will the Alpecin-Fenix rider be able to emulate Wout Van Aert’s dominant return performances?

Top-5:
1 Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): 59.27
2 Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +0.49
3 Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers): +1.28
4 Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): +1.44
5 Quinten Hermans (Tormans Circus): +2.15