Wout van Aert kick-started his cyclocross season with third place at the X²O Trofee Kortrijk on Saturday.
Eli Iserbyt won on the tight, technical course, his fifth victory since the cyclocross season resumed two months ago. Lars van der Haar took second-place
After a busy and prolific season on the road, Van Aert had said he suggested he would be off-form in the opening races of his ‘cross season as he looks to slowly build toward the January world championships. There was no sign of rustiness however. The 26-year-old started low down the grid and raced the first laps mid-pack before battling through the field to join Iserbyt and Van der Haar in pursuit of sole leader Michael Vanthorenhout.
“I had made the decision to keep a low profile in the first half to be able to make a difference in the final,” Van Aert said afterward. “That was a good choice, although I quickly noticed the difference between just following and making the pace. I had to pay for my efforts in the last lap. ”
The trio caught Vanthorenhout midway through the hour-long race to take a 10-second lead over the chasing bunch. Iserbyt was able to take the lead in the penultimate lap when Van Aert stumbled, opening up a small gap.
“If you are on the limit, you can make a mistake,” Van Aert admitted after the race. “It mainly strengthens my conviction that I wanted to start slowly.”
Iserbyt was unstoppable from there, powering around the final circuit in a faultlessly aggressive ride, crossing the line seven seconds ahead of Van der Haar. Van Aert followed 20 seconds later having been forced into a bike change in the final lap due to mechanical issues.
Mathieu van der Poel was not racing as he delays his season restart until the X²O round in Antwerp, mid-December.
Lucinda Brand won the women’s race, backing up her victory in Merksplas last weekend. The Telenet-Fidea Lions rider beat Denise Betsema and Yara Kastelijn in a sprint.
Brand had suffered a slow start to the race but eventually fought to the pointy end of the race to form a group with Betsema, Kastelijn, and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. All eyes were on world champ Alvarado, only for a slip in the final lap to put her out of contention.
“I had a really bad start. Due to a small mistake, I was actually chasing the field,” Brand said afterward.
“When I did come up front in the fourth round, I made another mistake. After then I tried to get others to work, but that also took a lot of energy. I had to rely on my sprint ... I didn’t want to try anything on the last part. I accelerated first and assumed my own strength.”
Brand, Alvarado, and Kastelijn will all face-off again Sunday at the World Cup opener in Tabor. Van Aert, Iserbyt, and Vanthorenhout will all be competing in the men’s race that follows.
“I didn’t expect to get third place already,” Van Aert said Saturday. “I hope to reap the benefits of today tomorrow [at the World Cup]. The course in Tabor should suit me even better. In any case, I am looking forward to it again. ”