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ESSEN, Belgium—The ’fourth edition of the 2016 DVV Verzekeringen Trofee series was held Saturday at Noordvlees Van Goolen Cyclocross Essen in Essen, Belgium. The 2016 event was the 51st(!) edition of the Essen event, which was formerly known as the Grand Prix Rouwmoer. The last Dutch rider to win the event was Richard Groenendaal in 1997, and Wout Van Aert had won the three previous runnings of the event, so Mathieu van der Poel was looking to snap both a Belgian and a specific Belgian’s winning streaks on Saturday.

The 2016 Cyclocross Essen course featured a relatively flat track that had most of its elevation provided by two series of rollers and a 180 degree on-camber bowl that looked like a rad bike park feature. The weather was damp, but with the exception of a few corners, the track was tacky and fast, with riders turning in very quick laps just over five minutes. As in the women’s race, several of the biggest moments in the men’s race would come at the unassuming barriers and small stairs that most of the men chose to ride over.

 

Early on in the race Wout Van Aert rode like a man who wanted to win his fourth straight Cyclocross Essen. Mathieu van der Poel, for the second straight year at Essen suffered a mechanical, and Van Aert pounced on the opportunity to attack. The World Champion then dispatched Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) during the third lap when the Marlux-Napoleon Games rider crashed on one of the small steps.

Unlike at Zeven two weeks ago, Van der Poel would not rejoin the front after his mechanical, leaving Van Aert to ride solo for the rest of the race and win comfortably to take home the win and close the gap to 4-9 in the 2016 MvdP/WVA van der Trofee competition.

Early Troubles for Meeusen

At the start of the race Tom Meeusen (Telenet Fidea Lions) appeared ready to put himself in the mix with Van Aert and the other riders. Unfortunately, he suffered a devastating crash just seconds into the race when he lost his wheel shortly before the barriers and crashed to the ground. The early mishap would not be the end of Meeusen’s day, but it would prove to add a degree-of-difficulty point or two to his afternoon ride.

It looked to be a two-man duel to the end until Wout Van Aert opened up final gap. 2016 Hansgrohe Superprestige Spa-Francorchamps. Elite Men's race. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Fast, clean conditions made for fast racing but couldn’t prevent a Van der Poel mechanical. It looked to be another two-man duel to the end until Van der Poel hit the pits. photo: 2016 Hansgrohe Superprestige Spa-Francorchamps. Elite Men’s race. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel traded leads through the first lap before Van Aert pulled to the front after the blazing fast first lap. About halfway though the second lap Van Aert launched one of his early-race attacks to take advantage of Van der Poel’s misfortune. The attack broke off a lead group that included Pauwels and Telenet Fidea Lions teammates Toon Aerts, Corne van Kessel and Jim Aernouts (Telenet-Fidea Lions).

Another Rough Start for Van der Poel, Another Opportunity for Van Aert

When the dust had settled from the second lap, it was clear that an occurrence most foul had befallen van der Poel. The Dutch star came across in 15th place, 25 seconds off the lead pace after having trouble with his shifting and slowly drifting back in the chase group while Van Aert accelerated away at the front (confirmed by Andrew Aaron, my unofficial race spotter).

When the riders reached the first set of rollers during the third lap, the lead group had become three‑Van Aert, Aerts, and Pauwels‑while Van Kessel dropped off the pace by two seconds. By the halfway point of the lap, Van Aert was still on the gas and opened up a small two-second lead on Pauwels, who had broken away from the chase group.

Disaster would strike for Pauwels on a series of small steps the men were riding throughout the race. Pauwels lost his wheel hopping over one of the steps and fell to the ground while Aerts and Van Kessel had to maneuver around him. The slip allowed Van Aert the opportunity to open up an eight-second lead at the end of the lap that he would not relinquish for the rest of the race. After his crash, Pauwels dropped back into a chase group of three with Van Kessel and Aerts.

No Van der Poel Comeback Magic

During the 2016 campaign, we have seen Mathieu van der Poel come roaring back from early bike issues, so as the race entered its middle portion, it is fair to say that the contest was by no means decided. However, during laps three and four, van der Poel was unable to pull closer to Van Aert, and after four laps he still sat 25 seconds behind the leader, and without the motivation of a DVV Series overall win after a disappointing Koppenbergcross.

With Van Aert looking strong and focused on the front, a Van der Poel comeback looked unlikely, and any chance of one occurring was snuffed out on lap five when the Dutch rider lost control of his bike and came down hard on his top tube. It appeared that he tweaked his hip during the slip, and was rendered a non-factor for the rest of the race by the mishap.

After the race, Van Aert said that he saw his archrival having troubles and although a do-over would have been fun, that is part of cyclocross, saying, “I saw that he suddenly wasn’t riding at the front anymore. Too bad there wasn’t a new race, but whether it’s exciting or not, that does not matter to me. Every win counts.” (translated)

While Wout Van Aert continued to extend his lead at the front of the race, Pauwels looked for his opportunity to seize second. During the sixth of eleven laps, Pauwels broke away from a chase group that now included Wietse Bosmans (Beobank-Corendon), Van Kessel, and Aerts to open up an eight second gap on the two chasers.

Battle for Third Heats Up

As the race entered its final trimester, it became clear that barring a major disaster, Van Aert would finish first and Pauwels second. The real excitement for the remainder of the afternoon would be the battle for third.

After his early disaster, Tom Meeusen remained focused and slowly worked his way back toward the front of the race, and in the process, dragged a chase group of four riders back to make contact with the Aerts-Van Kessel-Bosmans group with a little over three laps to go. The two groups merged to form a new super group of seven that looked very similar to the one at the front of the women’s race earlier in the afternoon.

Amateur video footage of the race for third:

The group stayed at seven with three to go, two to go, and finally into the bell lap. As the riders headed into the final trip around the course, Meeusen looked determined to complete his comeback, riding at the front of the group and pushing the pace. Meeusen was the first to hit the pavement for the finishing sprint, and he stayed on the gas through the line to grab the third podium spot just ahead of Laurens Sweeck (ERA Circus), who also put in yeoman’s work returning to be part of the afternoon’s conversation, and Toon Aerts.

Van Aert Reigns at Essen

Van Aert’s early attack would prove to be all he needed to clinch victory for the afternoon. He rode with the poise and confidence American cyclocross fans saw at Jingle Cross and Cross Vegas and finished 18 seconds ahead of the second-place Pauwels.

For the World Champion, nothing would be left to chance during the race, saying,”An easy victory? At first the lead held around ten seconds, which I would not call reassuring. I had hoped to keep driving to expand the gap further. Only in the last two laps was I calmer and could lay back.” (translated)

Fans who headed out to Essen were likely disappointed they did not get to see a MvdP/WVA treat, but for Van Aert, “…it was exciting enough.”

With the win, Van Aert added to his commanding series lead. He now stands 2:34 ahead of Kevin Pauwels and 3:19 ahead of third-place Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games).

The next DVV Verzekeringen Trophy race is next Saturday, December 17 at Soudal Scheldecross Antwerp.

2016 Cyclocross Essen Results: Elite Men - DVV Verzekeringen Trofee

PlNameTeamTime
1Wout Van AertCrelan-Vastgoedservice1:00:56
2Kevin PauwelsMarlux-Napoleon Games0:00:18
3Tom MeeusenTelenet Fidea Lions0:00:38
4Laurens SweeckERA-Circus0:00:39
5Toon AertsTelenet Fidea Lions0:00:39
6Corne Van KesselTelenet Fidea Lions0:00:40
7Michael BorosERA-Circus0:00:41
8Gianni VermeerschTeam Steylaerts0:00:41
9Wietse BosmansBeobank-Corendon0:00:43
10Jens AdamsCrelan-Vastgoedservice0:01:12
11Michael BorosERA-Circus0:01:21
12Jim AernoutsTelenet Fidea Lions0:01:36
13Tim MerlierCrelan-Vastgoedservice0:01:53
14Dieter VanthourenhoutMarlux-Napoleon Games0:02:07
15Vincent BaestaensBeobank-Corendon0:03:21
16Mathieu Van der PoelBeobank-Corendon0:03:21
17Klaas VantornoutMarlux-Napoleon Games0:03:55
18Ingmar Uytdewilligen0:03:57
19Jens VandekinderenKalas-NNOF0:03:59
20Thijs Van AmerongenTelenet Fidea Lions0:04:04
21Kevin CantERA-Circus0:04:13