Racing at the 2018 Cyclocross World Championships in Valkenburg-Limburg finished off with the U23 and Elite Men on Sunday. In U23 race, Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) escaped a challenge from defending champion Joris Nieuwenhuis (The Netherlands) to win his second U23 Worlds title, and American Gage Hecht had an impressive ride, finishing ninth.
Wout van Aert surprised the cyclocross world by dominating the Elite Men’s race and relegating race favorite Mathieu van der Poel (The Netherlands) to fighting for third. Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) had a career day with his second-place finish, and Stephen Hyde finished a career-best 15th.
Cyclocross Magazine correspondent Corey Coogan Cisek spoke with several of the top finishers after the race. Her interviews with Van Aert, Vanthourenhout, Hyde, Iserbyt and Hecht are compiled below.
Wout van Aert: Elite Men World Champion
How did he prepare?
“After the season, I already had two rainbow jerseys in the closet, so it gave me a really relaxed feeling coming into this race. Mathieu dominated the whole season and was the favorite. He was the one who deserved this title, but the World Championships isn’t for who deserved it the whole season, it’s just a one-day race. For me, I was relaxed before this race, and it’s always difficult to focus for a one-day race. Everything has to come together for one hour. It’s not easy, but it’s cool it worked out.”
Role national team played?
“It’s cool to hear they were confident in me. I can only tell you the national team was really relaxed. It was really the first time we had this kind of group for the World Championships. A very young selection and young team. We know each other from the youth categories. We talk about the same things, even this morning at breakfast. I really felt supported by them and hopefully we can all celebrate together when I get out of here. It was a cool week.”
Mathieu van der Poel’s mental strength?
“I think when you can win more than 25 races in a season, you cannot talk about a guy who is not strong mentally. But it was an advantage I won the world title the last two years. I felt really good today. Mathieu is used to taking a gap in the beginning of the race, and he’s not used to chasing someone. I knew when I was able to get a gap on him, which I did in the second lap, it would be difficult for him to stay focused. That was a good thing for me. I think he’s mentally strong.”
Future in cyclocross?
“I always [said] that I want to check how it goes in the Classics season. I want to do that without pressure and look at it as a learning process. Afterward, I will choose how I’m going to fill in the next season. But of course, with this white jersey again, this isn’t a goodbye to cyclocross. I’m enjoying the sport too much, again today with these crowds and this course, the sport way too beautiful to say goodbye. Well see how we do next season. Of course, I don’t plan to put in a season like this every year. I want to be more consistent. That is definitely not my goal to do it always like this.”
Michael Vanthourenhout: Elite Men Second Place
Riding for Wout versus himself?
“The first lap I was really fast. The second lap I was feeling very strong, and Mathieu was having a bad day. The second lap I went over to Mathieu and it gave five or ten seconds to Wout. I did what I wanted to. Wout was the strongest man today, I think.”
Stephen Hyde: Elite Men 15th Place
Thoughts on the race?
“That was the single hardest day of my life. I think I had a really good race. Unfortunately, I started sixth and then dropped my chain. Sixth was kind of unrealistic for me, I think, so I was dropping back anyways without trying to. You get a little excited and forget you’re not Superman. I needed come back a little bit and dropped my chain. Dropped back to like 20th and then made my way back up to 15th. I was absolutely finished at the line. I did my best.”
How did you work your way up?
“Honestly, I’m not the best at riding these conditions, like ruts and deep mud. I don’t necessarily have the power and don’t drive well in it, compared to the guys in front of me. I had to find my strong spots and really focus on them. In the past big deep ruts haven’t really been my thing, but today they were. I can say I rode them better than most of the people I was with, so I was really relying on that so I didn’t have to do as much pedaling. Go fast downhill and save energy.”
Tires and pressure?
“Today I ran the Challenge Limus. I ran 22.5 in the front and 23.5 in the rear. When I first came out, I was running 21 and 21 on Thursday, then Saturday I went up again because the ruts were getting deeper and the roots were coming out. The top section was filled with a little rock and pebbles, so there was a really good chance of flatting. Out here, it was not going to be easy to come back from something like that, and I didn’t lose any traction.”
“I’m really really happy. That was my best result at a World Championship so far, and I wasn’t necessarily expecting it. I had a bit of a rough season this year. Every year I’ve gotten a little bit farther ahead in the World Cup and at Worlds, and it’s time to cap off the season.”
Eli Iserbyt: U23 Men World Champion
Which title is more important?
“I think [the second one] is more important. The second world title is always the hardest one. It confirmed my good shape. It was a race that was really for me. It was a really hard race. I knew from the beginning of the week I had a really good chance to win, so makes it more beautiful for me, to finish it off.”
What were you thinking about during the race?
“I was just focusing until the last bridge, then I knew I was going to win. The last road section, then I had a little bit of time to celebrate and think about it.”
Gage Hecht: U23 Men Ninth Place
How did the start go?
“My start wasn’t ideal. I was a little slow getting on the pedals and then I got stuck behind some of the slower starters as well. I think I was maybe in the top 20 for the first lap and just kind of picked my way around riders who were going down. Trying to keep it steady as best I can and not hitting the ground too many times. I just kind of kept going, and as the race went on I guess I kept picking off riders. I don’t really know, but at some point I heard I was getting in the top ten, which was sweet and I was pretty pumped about that. I was really focused on trying to hit the ruts right and trying to keep it quick on the runs too.”
What role did preparation play?
“Lately, I have been incorporating a little bit more running into my training than usual. I think that really helped. Jim Lehman at Carmichael Training Systems has really been a big help this season in making sure I’m really ready for whatever the races might throw at me this year. We worked together to see if we could put that running in, knowing that this part of the season could favor the running a bit more, so that paid off.”
Thoughts on the course?
“This is an amazing course and venue. It is probably the single most hardest course, I can’t talk because I’m tired from it. The hardest course I’ve ever done just because the descents are so gnarly followed by the amount of running and climbing there is out there. It’s amazing.”
Tires and pressure?
“We were running the Donnelly PDXs today, which is a pretty consistent tire choice for us because it’s a great tire for a lot of conditions, especially today. It’s built for mud and it was shedding the mud really well. I was running about 23 psi.”
Winning Pan-Ams versus Worlds top ten?
“It’s pretty amazing to finish in the top ten. Pan-Ams is amazing because it’s the biggest race you can do on American soil as of right now, in terms of championships go. This is just a spectacular thing because it’s really competing to see who’s the best in the world in your category. It’s really cool to be a part of this event and to get a top ten in it, I’m taken aback by it still. I’m a little shocked.”
Goal for Worlds?
“I aimed for top 15. That’s always a big goal of mine. But after this season, I’ve been getting closer and closer to the top ten, and I was really happy to put that behind me, getting a top ten here. This is my first one. I’m just so pumped about it.”
What has he learned racing in Europe?
“Being ready for how aggressive how everybody else is. When you come over here for ’cross more, you get used to how the mud acts and how you can expect the courses to be. I think having experience over here has made a big difference in my career. I think the more time somebody can have over here, the better.”
For more from Valkenburg-Limburg, see our dedicated 2018 Cyclocross World Championships page.