For the reigning World Champ Wout van Aert (Cibel-Cebon Offroad Team) this season, victories have come few and far between.
Yet despite Mathieu van der Poel’s utter dominance over the last few years, Van Aert has found a way to come to form late in the season and win races that matter.
Coming into Pont-Château, Van Aert was winless in the World Cup. While his World Cup results, with six second places and one seventh place in Tabor, would make a season for most racers, for a rainbow jersey wearer, it’s been a disappointment. Could a few weeks in 2019 change his fortunes?
With Van der Poel skipping the French World Cup stop, Van Aert surely had a better chance for victory without battling his nemesis, if he could get to the front.
Fast in France
Van Aert might have arrived as one of the favorites, but a fast, pack-friendly Pont-Château course and a determined World Cup leader would make for long odds for a first Van Aert World Cup win.
Early on, Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels sauzen – Vastgoedservice), Tim Merlier (Creafin TÜV Sud) and the only Van der Poel present, David (Corendon Circus), looked determined to put Van Aert and Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea) on the defensive.
Soon Telenet Fidea reinforcements Thijs Aerts and Lars van der Haar joined the party, and a long trail of chasers stretched across the course.
On the second lap, Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux Bingoal) was anxious to unveil his trump card. Heading into the barriers, the Belgian unleashed a furious sprint, hopped the barriers with his trademark on-the-tops hand position, and drew Toon Aerts out of the crowd. Instantly, the two had a gap.
Van Aert was forced to close the gap, and in doing so, brought Joris Nieuwenhuis (Sunweb) and 14 other chasers back to the front.
On lap three, Vanthourenhout and Aerts tried the same tactic again, only this time, they had a rainbow jersey waiting and ready to give them company.
The trio’s small gap was short-lived, but it was an early view into their advantage.
Sieben Wouters (Creafin TÜV Sud) and Jens Adams (Pauwels sauzen – Vastgoedservice) had a dig heading into lap three, but an aggressive Vanthourenhout shut it down half a lap later, and resumed his position up front.
On lap four, Lars van der Haar, already infamous for his barrier bobbles, mistimed his hops at the stairs and went sideways. The lead group splintered with the carbon fiber barrier in their path. The only ones to escape the delay were Aerts, Van Aert, Vanthourenhout and Adams, and in a blink of an eye, the foursome had 20 seconds in hand.
Van der Haar attempted to make up for his costly error, leading the chase with Sweeck, but the final four looked set, just halfway into the race.
Two More to Tangle
Van der Haar’s dogged chase proved fruitful, and the lead group turned to six on lap six. Corne van Kessel dangled just behind. Could he make it three Lions up front?
Just as in the women’s race, the uphill barriers proved to be decisive. Each lap, the bunnyhoppers would hit the accelerator before the planks, and instantly open several bike length’s gap over the non-hoppers like Adams and Van der Haar.
Bunnyhopping was an advantage only if you cleared the planks. Sweeck, sitting in second position on lap nine, flew over the bars. As he climbed back on his bike, it looked like his chances for victory were over. But recover he did, and the Belgian not only chased back on but immediately sprinted to the front, eager to show that his spill did not drain his aspirations of victory.
Patience Pays for the Favorites
Content to let the others surge and return, Van Aert and Aerts kept their matches dry for the finale. With one lap to go, Aerts hit the front. Van Aert was quick to chase, and the lead group was down to two.
Vanthourenhout put his head down in an attempt to bring the leaders back, and just before the barriers, made contact. The best three on the day would have one more go at hopping the planks. Vanthourenhout played his card once more, sprinting into the lead, hopping the barriers with his hands on the flats, while Van Aert tapped his rear wheel on the final plank, and Aerts inexplicably dismounted for the first time all day.
Vanthourenhout put in one final sprint, only to look back in defeat to see his companions on his wheel. Aerts, after dismounting, did well to stay in contact, but would not see the front again.
Van Aert hit the final pavement and took flight.
It was a formality.
Aerts chances for victory were grounded when he dismounted at the barriers.
Van Aert let out a scream with his first World Cup victory of the season, and was rewarded with a narrow lead in the World Cup standings.
A Perfectly-Timed Victory
“It’s of course a relief, wearing the rainbow jersey,” Van Aert said after his win. “I’ve had a hard time this season getting victories, but I’ve finally won at the highest level.”
Van Aerts confirmed his patient approach. “The course is a very technical one,” he explained. “The trick is to stay calm and save energy for the final, which I tried to do, but obviously Toon did as well. I had to gamble for victory, so I had to catch all the attacks myself. So this was hard, but it was worth it.”
Next week the World Cup continues in Hoogerheide, with a title on the line.
- France’s Francis Mourey will be retiring after this season, and was celebrated on the podium. Mourey finished 16th.
— Renaat Schotte (@wielerman) January 20, 2019
- Five Americans took the start, with Curtis White finishing in 29th, Max Judelson in 41st, and Andrew Juiliano in 45th, Josh Bauer in 50th and Tyler Cloutier in 51st. Judelson finished the World Cup on a dedicated singlespeed:
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Have you ever seen someone finish a World-Cup Cyclocross on a singlespeed?😅🙈 @maxjudelson just did! My hero of the day! . . @sporza.be @cyclocrosscustom @cyclocrosss @usacycling . . #cyclocross #pontchateau #usa #cyclisme #cycling #wielrennen #wereldbeker #single #speed #hero #herooftheday #happy #best #fun #cross #cx #lobster #rock #crazy #loco #france #usa #fun #best #power #bike #koers #veld #lifebehindbars
- The course offered ample air time for those with wings. Balint Hamvas captured some of the birds in flight:
Full results below.
2019 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Pont Chateau Results: Elite Men
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Age||Result|
|4||19||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||28||1:04:42|
|7||21||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||27||1:05:49|
|33||25||VAN DER MEER||Gosse||NED||24||1:07:48|
|37||44||RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBAÑEZ||Javier||ESP||40||1:08:22|
|49||47||DIEZ ARRIOLA||Jose Antonio||ESP||37|