Thus far this cyclocross season, Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) has shown signs of vulnerability, culminating in Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) beating him for the first time in over a year last weekend at Ronse.
With Van der Poel seemingly poised to return to his old ways when he opened up a gap at the end of the first lap on the iconic rutted off-camber section, Aerts was not going to let him get away. Aerts put in a big surge up the big climb at the end of the lap and bridged up to Van der Poel.
What followed was one of the best Elite Men’s races in recent memory on a cold, wet, epic day at the Citadel of Namur.
A Two-Up Battle Early On
Rains fell in Namur all week, and on a cold afternoon at the Citadel, rain started to fall again as the Elite Men took the course. The sloppy conditions the Elite Women raced in quickly deteriorated further.
Corne van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions) kicked things off by taking the holeshot and leading a group of five Telenet riders into the prologue section of the course. Soon looking to break up the pride of Lions was Mathieu van der Poel, who moved up to sixth, then fifth, then third at the sand-on-stairs descent. After clearing the cobbled climb, the World Champ was all the way up to first-place.
Once in first, Van der Poel stayed on the move. He opened up a gap on the iconic rutted off-camber section by riding the one clean line in Van der Poelian fashion. Behind him, a chase of Toon Aerts, Van Kessel and Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions) scrambled to not let the champ ride away early on.
Last weekend, Aerts had a big day at Ronse when he knocked off Van der Poel and revealed the World Champ’s first sign of vulnerability since the Koppenberg in 2018. Perhaps armed with a renewed sense of confidence, Aerts exploded up the final climb of the first lap and bridged up to Van der Poel. There would be no riding away on an already sloppy afternoon.
Van Kessel was 7 seconds back after Lap 1 and Hermans and Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal) sat a few seconds further back.
At the start of the second lap, Aerts was already ready to show he was not just happy to be second wheel. He took the lead into the first twisty, muddy descent and then opened up a gap on Van der Poel by acing the rutted off-camber. Van der Poel was noticeably slow through the section thanks to a flat caused by a rock lurking underneath the thick mud.
Aerts stayed on the attack through the run-ups and by the time Van der Poel got to the pit for a new bike, the Belgian had opened up a 13-second lead.
Aerts lead would only last so long in Lap 3. Van der Poel quickly closed down his deficit and bridged to Aerts at the paved start stretch before the lap’s final climb.
Behind the two leaders, Tom Pidcock (Trinity) charged up to fourth place, right behind Van Kessel. It appeared there would be two battles on the afternoon, one for first and another for third.
The fourth and fifth laps of the nine-lap race stayed chalk, with neither Aerts nor Van der Poel able to get a significant advantage. Behind them, Pidcock took over solo third, chasing 17 seconds a little over midway into the race.
Things Get Spicy on the Cold, Wet Day
In Lap 6, things got spicy again.
Aerts took the lead into the twisty, muddy descent, and behind him, Van der Poel overcooked one of the technical corners. While the Dutchman bobbled, Aerts stayed on the move.
His advantage would only last a moment. Aerts’ wheel got stuck at the bottom of the sand-on-stairs descent in what had become a sandy, muddy pond. Van der Poel recovered and made contact and then took over the lead on the cobbled climb.
Van der Poel charged into the two run-ups to put Aerts on his back foot. Aerts went into Pit 2, and Van der Poel opened up a 9-second lead at the final big climb. It seemed it might be Van der Poel’s moment.
However, as Van der Poel pulled through the finish straight, his lead was down to 4 seconds. He had another flat. As Van der Poel gingerly rode to Pit 1 for a new bike, Aerts sped past him and opened up a lead.
What was a small 2-second lead for Aerts was soon pushing 10-plus seconds. As Van der Poel grinded up the cobbled climb, he looked a little broken. The conditions were not all that different from Yorkshire Worlds, where Van der Poel blew up in spectacular fashion near the end of the race. Were the rain and cold the Dutchman’s Waterloo, of sorts?
Aerts stayed on the move and carried an 18-second lead into the penultimate lap.
If the race’s spice was habanero a few laps ago, it was up to full-on ghost pepper in the next lap and a half.
Aerts’ lead was the full length of the rutted off-camber halfway into Lap 8. Then, that advantage came crashing down in an instant.
Following the first of two run-ups, riders had to quickly remount and descend what was basically a wall while maybe clipped in with one foot. At the bottom of the drop, Aerts went careening sideways and crashed. As he struggled to recover, Van der Poel came back to life.
Van der Poel caught Aerts on the second run-up and took the lead at Pit 2. Aerts recovered, and the two riders crossed the finish line getting the bell at the same time. Both men were covered in mud and had at times both seemed broken by the conditions that led Iserbyt to abandon the race with hypothermia-like conditions.
The bell lap would decide the winner.
Van der Poel led toward Pit 1, and behind him, Aerts slipped momentarily at the left-hand turn before the pit. Van der Poel heard his rival’s misfortune and unleashed a vintage Van der Poel attack. Aerts recovered but had to go deep to keep pace.
The muddy, twisting descent toward the sandy stairs had fallen into complete disrepair by the end of the Elite Men’s race. At his limit, Aerts slipped and crashed hard. As he struggled to get his bearings and get back on his bike, Van der Poel disappeared.
Over an epic hour of racing had come down to two mistakes within a minute. Aerts had given Van der Poel proverbial hell, but as they say, when you come at the king, you best not miss.
Van der Poel rode a dominant last lap to take the win and extend his new winning streak to three races.
Aerts hobbled through the last lap to take second.
Pidcock entered the last lap in solid third, but he also crashed on the twisting descent. Van Kessel rode a strong last lap to ultimately pass Pidcock and take third.
Full results are below.
Elite Men Results: 2019 World Cup Namur
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|1||1||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:05:59|
|6||2||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||1:07:47|
|32||63||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||CAN||LAP|
|35||7||VAN DER HEIJDEN||Maik||NED||LAP|
|41||45||JUNQUERA SAN MILLAN||Mario||ESP||LAP|
|DNF||5||VAN DER POEL||David||NED|