Mathieu van der Poel rode well in second for most of the race before Pauwels passed. 2014 Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, Elite Men. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Mathieu van der Poel, shown here at the 2014 Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, will be racing with the Elite Men at Worlds. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Although the following is purely speculation, one does have to wonder how much national pride played into Van der Poel’s decision. After all, by winning the Dutch National Jersey in the Men’s Elite Race, and then resigning himself to the U23s, he provides a connotation where the best of the Dutch are still boys when competing at the world level. Even worse would have been the scenario where the Dutch National Champion lost in the U23 race.

I don’t have to speculate on how wearing the flag of the Netherlands had an effect on Van der Poel: the kid must have been beyond euphoric. Certainly his elation after winning in a country with a rich cyclocross heritage must have played a factor in his decision, even if just through emotion instead of logic.

Even though they hardly need any other motive, Van Aert and Van der Poel don’t have to look too deeply into the past to see that their decision is not without precedent. Only two years ago, Lars van der Haar decided to step up to the Elite level early before the 2013 World Championships in Louisville. The still young mentor can look back to a podium finish at Worlds, immediately followed by an overall World Cup victory. Would he tell Van Aert and Van der Poel a story of regret? Probably not.

Despite not winning his national championship race, Van Aert will likely head into the 2015 World Championships as a favorite, with Van der Poel not far behind. Of course, this is cyclocross, and anything can happen, including both riders not landing on the podium. But at the very least during the race, we can expect a narrative of how the two are comparing to one another in Tabor. At the most, however, we could be witnessing the passing of a torch, with Van Aert, Van der Poel, and Van der Haar as the faces of cyclocross.