by Kyle Moore
The two biggest stars in elite men’s cyclocross shined once again in the penultimate round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Nommay. Mathieu Van der Poel (Correndon-Circus) made one early mistake when he missed his bike change in the pits, but the Dutch champion dominated after that. Van der Poel rode Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles) off his wheel on a series of muddy hills that only he could ride and won the first World Cup round held in Nommay in four years.
Van Aert was game early in the race, taking an early lead in the Nommay mud with a host of other riders, including teammate Tim Merlier (Crelan-Charles) and Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions). Van der Poel was present at the front until an early pit for a clean bike, and the Dutchman lost 15 seconds when he had to go back to get the bike that he had accidentally ridden past.
It was a momentary lapse in an otherwise immaculate race for Van der Poel. After refinding the lead with Van Aert, Van der Poel put on a show on a hill made difficult by the mud. But where Van der Poel could consistently grind his way to the top before a right-hand turn and a long flat straightaway, Van Aert consistently bogged down, kicking his way to the top early in the race before making the decision to dismount as the laps wound down.
And on a day when no one was able to ride completely clean lines through some at-times thick Nommay mud, Van der Poel’s dominance on the short muddy hills gave him plenty of daylight on Van Aert, and minutes over the remainder of the field.
Entertaining Early Laps
Van Aert and Van der Poel got straight to business from the gun, coming to the front with Merlier and Aerts.
The group of four established itself early, with Sweeck chasing just behind. A set of two wooden barriers required dismounts from three of the four, with just Van der Poel hopping over. The European champion has built a massive lead in the World Cup standings by doing what no one else can do. The benefit of his handling prowess became more obvious during the French round of the World Cup.
Early on, however, Van der Poel showed even he makes mistakes. He entered the pits first to change his bike in front of the group, but he missed his lane seemingly without realizing it. By the time the European and Dutch champion realized his mistake, he was several pits past where he needed to be. The error required a dismount and walk back with his bike before he could cut in front of a line of pitting riders to grab a clean pair of wheels.
But even with a relatively large mistake, Van der Poel was only ten seconds behind Van Aert at the end of lap one. The Belgian champ was trying to capitalize on Van der Poel’s goof, and had opened a three-second lead on Aerts at the line, with Sweeck, Merlier and Czech champion Michael Boros (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice) all in the gap.
Van Aert pitted early on lap two while Aerts and Van der Poel did not, allowing them to close the gap somewhat as Merlier began to suffer in fifth. Van der Poel hopped the wood barriers again but nearly binned it, though the speed he carried out of the jumps still allowed him to pass Aerts. Van der Poel and Aerts were back to Van Aert’s wheel after the Belgian slipped on a dismount.
Van der Poel led into the pits that he had misjudged on the opening lap, but with an exaggerated wave from a member of his entourage, he successfully grabbed a new bike and went back to work. Van Aert was with him at the end of the lap, but Aerts, Sweeck, and Boros were struggling as lap three began.
Behind the leading duo, Aerts and Sweeck reconvened, with Merlier and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal) riding in fifth and sixth.
Van der Poel for the Win
With most of the race still remaining, Van der Poel soon relegated Van Aert and the others to fighting for second. He stamped his way up the muddy rise that allowed him to stamp his authority on the race thereafter. Van Aert slipped his rear wheel and put a foot down, kicking his way up the rest of the short climb and granting Van der Poel ten seconds. From there, the gap would only grow.
After the decisive muddy hill, Van Aert found a rise of his own that made it appear as if he could turn the tables on his Dutch rival. With support from the French crowd, he consistently pounded his way to the top on the right-hand side, while Van der Poel never found a line he preferred. But Van Aert’s climb was smaller than Van der Poel’s, and the Dutchman’s lead was already too large.
Van Aert could hold out on Van der Poel’s dominance longer than anyone else, but another Van der Poel mistake, which the Belgian would need to see his wheel again, never came.
Van Aert was just three seconds back after lap three, but Sweeck and Aerts had lost 37 seconds, while Boros and Merlier had lost 50. Lap four was a mirror image of lap three, with expanding gaps. Van Aert crossed the line 12 seconds after Van der Poel, with Aerts, Sweeck, Merlier, Vanthourenhout and Boros fighting for a podium spot, but toiling in relative obscurity, over a minute behind.
Van der Poel and Van Aert both time-trialed over the line with five laps gone, but the gap to second place ballooned to 29 seconds. Meanwhile, eighth place on course was over two minutes behind, barely halfway through the match.
Two laps later, Van Aert was finally able to stop the bleeding. The Dutchman’s gap topped out at 43 seconds. By the completion of lap seven, Aerts had firmly established himself in third place, with over a half-minute in hand on Merlier, Vanthourenhout, and Sweeck.
The top two put on displays on their favorite parts of the course, climbing their hills of choice and dabbing a foot and rubbing the barriers on muddy, slidey turns. Yet Van der Poel took the bell with his biggest lead of the afternoon.
He thanked his supporters on the finish stretch, and stopped to hug his grandfather, French cycling great Raymond Poulidor, just past the line. On the same course on which his father Adrie won in 1999, Mathieu Van der Poel was victorious in a World Cup race yet again. The Dutchman consolidated his lead in the overall over Van Aert, who cruised in for second place, 33 seconds behind.
Aerts took third, while Merlier and Vanthourenhout rounded out the top five.
For the Americans and Canadians and Australians, Eric Thompson (MSpeedwax.com) finished 35th, Kerry Werner (Kona Factory CX Team) 36th, Michael van der Ham (Garneau-Easton p/b Transition LifeCare) 42nd, Garry Millburn (Speedvagen / MAAP) 45th and Tyler Cloutier (Transitions LifeCare p/b Garneau-Easton) 48th.
Men's Results: 2018 World Cup Nommay
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|1||18||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:06:56|
|8||21||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||1:10:44|
|37||46||RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBAÑEZ||Javier||ESP||LAP|
|42||56||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||CAN||LAP|
|DNF||19||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED|