After his tough-luck second in Bieles, Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) went on a post-Worlds tear, winning five straight races in February. On Sunday at Brico Cross Eeklo, Van der Poel looked determined to keep his post-Worlds momentum going.

Van der Poel broke up a large group with an attack early in the second lap and by the end of the second lap Van der Poel had a 10-second lead that would eventually swell to over 30 seconds en route to a dominant win in the World Cup tune-up race in Eeklo.

During the summer, we saw Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus) turn in a number of fine results on the road, and he wasted no time carrying that road fitness into the hole shot and an early-race lead. With much of the course consisting of grassy power sections, the field strung out throughout the first lap and a massive seven-rider group formed during the first trip through the start/finish. With the new season, would we see the field stay together deeper into the European races?

The answer, according to Mathieu van der Poel, is no. Van der Poel attacked early in lap two and at first, only Van Aert was able to break out and chase him. Early in the move, Van Aert appeared content to let Van der Poel work at the front, but by the time the dust settled from lap two, Van der Poel held a nine-second lead on Van Aert.

Criterium Games in the Chase for Second

The next several laps played out kind of like a criterium with a solo rider up the road. Sweeck rode back to Van Aert, then Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) and finally Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) joined to make a chase group of four. By the end of the fifth of ten laps, Van der Poel’s lead was 26 seconds, and the chase group was doing the criterium equivalent of looking around to see who was going to try to bring Van der Poel back. During this time, Gianni Vermeersch (Team Steylaerts) and Corne van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions) had also joined the group to make it six.

Last year, Michael Vanthourenhout had a very strong start to the season at the U.S. World Cups, and in 2017, he appears to be on good form again. The young Belgian made several strong attacks at the head of the chase group and several times was on the brink of breaking it up. Every opportunity he had, he was up over the handlebars and out of the saddle trying to push himself into a solo second position.

With three laps to go, Vanthourenhout’s efforts appeared to finally pay off. He and Sweeck broke from the chase and with two to go, the duo had a five-second lead on Van Aert, Vermeersch and Pauwels. Van der Poel’s lead was 30 seconds heading into the penultimate lap, so the riders were resigned to battling for second at this point.

Van der Poel Dominates

While the chasers were battling for second, Van der Poel was cooly and calmly crushing the field. Mid-way through the race he found the rut through the sand pit and was able to power through the long sand feature with relative ease while many other riders were forced to run. He handled the other technical features in a smooth and steady fashion, and so even though Vanthourenhout and Sweeck were throwing haymakers at each other, he was still able to keep his gap near 30 seconds.

After his second-lap attack, Van der Poel was never challenged, and he finished the ten-lap race with vintage Van der Poel aplomb to grab the victory at the World Cup tune-up. Cyclocross fans in the U.S. will soon get to see Van der Poel when he toes the line at the Jingle Cross World Cup next weekend.

Thrilling Battle for Second

The battle for second place at Eeklo turned out to be a barnburner. Inside two to go, Vanthourenhout and Sweeck threw attack after attack at one another in an effort to keep Van Aert off the podium. The efforts gave them a 10-second gap back to the world champion entering the penultimate lap. However, Wout Van Aert is never a rider to count out and slowly but surely, the world champion closed the gap to his two fellow young rivals.

Even with Van Aert closing, Vanthourenhout had other plans for the afternoon. Early in the last lap, he again attacked and opened up a six-second gap back to Van Aert and Sweeck. Perhaps sensing second-place was slipping away, Van Aert pulled ahead of Sweeck early in the last lap and decided it was his turn to reel Vanthourenhout back in.

The long sand pit was located right near the final turn onto the finishing straight, and Vanthourenhout hit the feature with several seconds back to the fast-chasing Van Aert. When the duo emerged from the section, Van Aert made the catch and was able to get the jump on Vanthourenhout in the finishing sprint. Perhaps having seen what Van Aert did on the road this season, Vanthourenhout conceded for a hard-fought third. Sweeck took fourth and Kevin Pauwels out-lasted Vermeersch for fifth.

Brico Cross Eeklo Quick Results

  1. Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon)
  2. Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles)
  3. Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games)
  4. Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus)
  5. Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games)
  6. Gianni Vermeersch (Team Steylaerts)
  7. Corne van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions)
  8. Dan Soete (Telenet Fidea Lions)
  9. Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions)
  10. Diether Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games)

Full results here