The last three editions of the famed Superprestige Zonhoven have been kind of predictable, with Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) winning and Wout van Aert (Jumbo – Visma) finishing second.
With Van der Poel away training in warmer climes and Van Aert getting ready for his late-December return, Sunday’s trip into De Kuil got infinitely less predictable before the light even turned green.
After a couple of down races, Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal) showed he was ready to right the ship by grabbing the holeshot. Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions), last year’s Keventh-place finisher at Zonhoven, also joined the young Belgian as a fast starter.
Midway through the first lap, the lead group showed some team diversity, with a full 4 teams represented in the group of 10. As usual, however, most of the leaders were from the Telenet and Pauwels Sauzen supergroups.
One lap into the race, seven riders were at the front, with Tom Pidcock (Trinity Racing) and David van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) spoiling the Telenet / Pauwels inter-team group ride. Three more Pauwels Sauzen riders dangled 3 seconds back and quickly made contact with the front early in Lap 2.
Thus far this season, the orange and black have clearly gotten the best of the black and yellow, and on Sunday, Aerts—even though he was wearing the colors of the Belgian Champ—clearly had something to prove for himself and his team.
Last year’s Worlds bronze-medalist took the lead spot on the drop into De Kuil in Lap 2, and forced the others to follow his pace. Teammate Corne van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions) followed his wheel with Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal) hot on his tail. With riding lines primarily 18-inches wide in the sands of Zonhoven, Van Kessel did his part of good teammate, slowing up Sweeck and allowing Aerts to extend his lead at this early juncture in the contest.
Two laps into the 10-lap race, Aerts had a 4-second lead on Sweeck, while a splintered group of 4 gave chase.
Midway through Lap 3, Sweeck made contact with the leader, while Quinten Hermans (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Iserbyt slowly erased their gap. Pidcock and Van Kessel dangled close behind, trying to augment the size of the lead group. At the end of that third lap, Hermans bridged up to join Aerts and Sweeck, turning the tables a bit from the large groups of Pauwels Sauzen riders frequently seen draped around Aerts during the pre-Van-der-Poel part of the 2019/20 season.
Things remained fluid in the lead group for the next lap-plus. In Lap 4, it again appeared Aerts, Hermans and Sweeck were the class of the afternoon, but then 1 lap later, Pidcock exploded forward and led into De Kuil and up the ensuing climb of the sandy wall.
Pidcock continued to keep the pace high at the top of De Kuil, and Aerts powerfully stuck on his wheel.
It was midway through Lap 5 that the race’s 1st of 2 key moments occurred.
Aerts took the lead from Pidcock and railed a sandy, rutted 180-degree corner. Pidcock slipped up in the rut and had to dismount. Sensing the opportunity, Aerts stayed on the bike and attacked up the slightly inclined sandy exit while Pidcock dashed forward on foot. The mistake by Pidcock gave Aerts a good 10-second advantage on the rest of the lead group.
Van Kessel moved ahead of Pidcock, and with riding lines tough to come by in the sand, he set a kind of hard, kind of not-so-hard pace at the front of the chase group. When the sand cleared from that 5th lap, Aerts’ lead was up to 13 seconds.
In Lap 6, Sweeck broke free from the chasers to take up the solo pursuit of Aerts. His deficit was at 11 seconds with 4 laps to go. Certainly not insurmountable, but a challenge nonetheless.
With 3 to go, Aerts’ lead was down to 9 seconds, and then in Lap 8, Sweeck continued his surge forward. A gap measured in seconds became one measured in bike lengths as the race approached its penultimate trip into De Kuil.
In fact, as the two Belgians headed out into The Pit with two to go, Sweeck joined Aerts to make it a two-man battle. Meanwhile, three Lions surrounded Iserbyt in the battle for third.
Nothing changed in that penultimate lap, and at the bell, it was Sweeck v. Aerts for the win at the famed Pit of Zonhoven.
Aerts kicked off the bell lap festivities with an attack on the flat section leading up to the first drop into De Kuil. Then, at the entrance to De Kuil, the race got upended. Literally.
Aerts led down the first drop, but at the top of the first sandy descent, Sweeck went butt-over-tea-kettle. Fortunately for him, the thick sand softened the OTB landing, but Aerts still gained a massive lead.
Sweeck dejectedly hopped back on his bike and took the descent, but his Belgian rival was long gone. De Kuil giveth and De Kuil taketh away. Or something like that.
From there, Aerts coasted to the win. Sweeck settled for second, and Iserbyt followed close behind in third. With the win, Aerts and the Telenet Baloise team got a signature win over the vaunted Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal juggernaut.
Top 10 results are below. Stay tuned for full results when they become available.
2019 Elite Men Superprestige Zonhoven Top 10
1. Toon Aerts
2. Laurens Sweeck
3. Eli Iserbyt
4. Quinten Hermans
5. Lars van der Haar
6. Corne van Kessel
7. Tom Pidcock
8. Jens Adams
9. David van der Poel
10. Marcel Meisen