With Wout van Aert injured and Mathieu van der Poel racing Road Worlds in two weeks, Eli Iserbut (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) knew he had a chance to start his season off in impressive fashion at the U.S. World Cups.
Standing in his way, however, was 2018's double winner Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions), who won both World Cups in impressive fashion. Iserbyt felt he had good fitness heading into the season, but the warm, humid conditions in Iowa City were an unusual twist the European riders had to deal with.
"I knew from last week that I was on the best of my level. I did everything this summer to be good in September and October because I knew Mathieu and Wout were not starting these races. I took advantage of that, and I think I am on the best form of my life," Iserbyt said.
In the Elite Men's race that kicked off the day's two races, Aerts was the early aggressor, and Iserbyt soon followed his countryman's early speed. The two broke off the front in the second lap and for a moment, appeared headed for a two-man duel like the one Aerts and Van Aert treated fans to in 2018.
The two-man battle did not materialize, with several of Iserbyt's teammates and Gianni Vermeersch (Creafin - Fristads) joining the two Belgians at the front of the race. Midway through the race, the lead group was down to Aerts, Iserbyt, Vermeersch and Daan Soete (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal).
When Aerts and Iserbyt again got a gap by riding the Mt. Krumpit run-up, it appeared the two-man battle might be on again.
However, with Iserbyt sensing some fatigue in Aerts after the Belgian National Champ's big efforts earlier in the race, Iserbyt took the lead at the top of the big climb up the backside of Mt. Krumpit and with Aerts on his limit, extended his advantage on the twisty descent of the steep hill. With 3 laps to go, Iserbyt's advantage was 5 seconds. A lap later it was up to 21 seconds.
Iserbyt was gone to a World Cup win in his first World Cup after aging up to the Elites.
"I knew the course and knew it was really hard. We talked about it with the team, and you just have to keep a steady pace the entire race and not blow up in the beginning. I think I did that really well, and it worked out," Iserbyt said about his win.
A Pauwels Sauzen Sandwich
When the Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice and Marlux Bingoal teams merged earlier this year, it brought together an impressive group of talent on the same team to stand opposite the black and yellow of the Telenet Baloise Lions. With so many riders on the same, one of the questions entering the season was who would emerge as the team's standard-bearer against the Van der Poel, Van Aerts and Aerts of the European cyclocross peloton.
Saturday, one rider making a strong bid for that spot was Eli Iserbyt. After Jens Adams (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) took the holeshot and led through the run-up up Mt. Krumpit, Aerts took over the lead on the climb up the backside of Mt. Krumpit and started to push the pace. His effort quickly helped create a split one lap in, with Aerts, Iserbyt and Quinten Hermans (Telenet Baloise Lions) holding a slight advantage on Adams and the rest of the chasers.
Aerts stayed aggressive in Lap 2, riding the section of Mt. Krumpt that was a run-up for most and giving himself a gap on Hermans and Iserbyt. When Aerts punched it up the long climb on the backside of Mt. Krumpit, only Iserbyt could match his pace.
Last year's two World Cups in the U.S. were defined by battles between Aerts and Van Aert that Aerts ultimately won. With Iserbyt joining Aerts at the front, it appeared the two might be ready to engage in another two-man battle when they crossed the line with a 9-second gap on a group of 5 chasing behind them.
The two-man battle would not happen, at least not right now. Last weekend's winner at Eeklo, Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) made a move up the big climb and joined the other two at the front. The trio's small 3-second advantage at the end of 3 of 10 laps, quickly became a group of 7 at the start of Lap 4. Included in that group were 4 Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal riders opposing Aerts and Hermans.
"I had to go hard because there were a lot of guys in the red jerseys around me. The guys from Pauwels - Bingoal had so many riders, I had to do my best to not let them come together, which was very difficult," Aerts said.
Hermans popped off the pace in Lap 4, and then Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) and Sweeck cracked on the hot, humid afternoon in Lap 5. Midway through the Elite Men's World Cup, the leaders were down to Aerts, Iserbyt, Vermeersch and Soete.
Iserbyt the World
Although the group was now four, it was apparent that the strongest riders at the front of the race were Aerts and Iserbyt. The two lived up to their billing at the start of the race's second half when they both rode the Mt. Krumpit run-up yet again. With Aerts leading the way, the two got a gap once again and then pressed their advantage down the descent.
A battle between two riders was on again, as Vermeersch and Soete could not rejoin them at the front yet again.
Six laps into the race, Aerts had kept the pace high to force an early split and then upped the pace again. However, with the humidity un-Belgian-like and travel taking its toll, there was still a lot of racing left to go.
"I eventually made a gap with Eli, then it was every man for himself, which was much easier for me," Aerts said. "Then the heat hit my body, which was the hardest part of my race."
The man best suited to beat the elements and competitors on Saturday would prove to be Iserbyt.
Aerts led most of the climb up the backside of Mt. Krumpit in Lap 7, but then, sensing some weakness in Aerts, Iserbyt attacked on the last kickers at the top of the climb. The damage from his attack and then descent down the face of Mt. Krumpit while Aerts was riding the rails was a 5-second advantage with 3 laps to go.
"I knew I had an advantage because I am 55 kilos and not that big. Toon set a very high pace in the beginning of the race, and I think he was just at the end of his level because at the top I heard he was coughing. I think he was a bit over his level, and I took advantage of that on the descent," Iserbyt said about his move.
As the prepenultimate lap progressed, it was clear Aerts did not have anything left to reel Iserbyt in. Although going solo for the last three laps was not necessarily in Iserbyt's plan, he was more than willing to go all-in on the move. With 2 laps to go, his advantage was up to 21 seconds.
From there, Iserbyt expanded his lead and then allowed himself to coast a bit to take home the World Cup win and take the World Cup leader's jersey heading into World Cup Waterloo next Sunday.
"I knew when I got a gap on Toon I should just ride the same pace and we'll see," Iserbyt said. "I was always riding at 95%, so I knew if he was coming back, I had a little punch to get another gap, but it wasn't necessarily. I just rode my race and it was enough."
Aerts held on to take second.
"Today was different with the weather conditions," Aerts said. "Last year, it was kind of wet and there was more oxygen in the air. Today, the last 20 minutes were just so hard because of the heat. That was my biggest opponent today."
The race for third shaped up to be a battle between Soete, Vermeersch and Sweeck. The trio entered the last lap together and stayed together throughout the last lap. Soete sprinted to the line for third, edging out the other two for the third podium spot.
Curtis White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld), Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) and Gage Hecht (Donnelly / Aevolo) rode together in a group for part of the race for the North American contingent. White led the way on the results sheet with a 15th-place finish. Hyde withdrew from the race due to back spasms.
For more from Iowa City, see the photo gallery and results below.
2019 Jingle Cross World Cup Results: Elite Men
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Age||Result|
|6||2||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||28||1:06:52|
|31||49||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||CAN||27|
|33||7||VAN DER HEIJDEN||Maik||NED||22|