Even though the conditions at Sunday’s Telenet Superprestige Gavere were perhaps the first true mudder of the 2017/18 season, the script for the early part of the Elite Men’s race was still a familiar read.

Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) and Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles) quickly got off the front and then during the second lap, Van der Poel used his technical superiority to open up a comfortable gap. The collective cyclocross world sighed and prepared for another day of Van der Poel dominance.

No matter how excellent Van der Poel has been, even he is not immune to mechanicals. His challenge to Van Aert at Worlds in Bieles was flattened by flat tires and on Sunday, his race-long trip off the front was given a bit of intrigue when he flatted early in the last lap. His lead was comfortable enough to get to the pit with a lead, but there was still half a lap left to race on the unforgiving mudder of a course in Gavere.

Van Aert still had to chase his rival down if he wanted to score a rare victory over the Dutch wunderkind who has been winning nearly every race in sight. Task, as it is every weekend, was certainly daunting.

Running bike exchanges were common on Sunday. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Running bike exchanges were common on Sunday. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Fast Start, Fast Escape

Van der Poel and Van Aert wasted little time getting off the front on the muddy afternoon at Gavere. The two had 15 seconds on the rest of the field after just one lap. Michael Boros (Pauwels Sauzen Vastgoedservice) and Tom Meeusen (Beobank-Corendon) took up the chase ahead of a large group.

Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert got off to a fast start. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert got off to a fast start. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Van der Poel excels in all facets of cyclocross, but if there is one area he arguably has a definitive advantage over Van Aert it is his bike handling ability. After all, he did stare down the Van der Poel of mountain biking Nino Schurter at a Mountain Bike World Cup this summer.

Van der Poel attacked the series of technical muddy descents early in the second lap and handled them with deft skill while Van Aert struggled trying to push through the section. Van der Poel skated with ease, Van Aert bobbled and the Dutchman had a lead. Van Aert focused on the chase, but he again slipped on the muddy climb after pit two, and Van der Poel again extended his lead. Same story, different race.

Van der Poel rode away from Van Aert in lap two. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Van der Poel rode away from Van Aert in lap two. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

That one lap gave Van der Poel a 17-second advantage. It was hard to see how Van Aert would be able to bring back such a gap on such a technical track.

Aerts Steps Up to the Chase

Although Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) had to cede his European Championship jersey to Van der Poel, he has still be riding strong during the last few weeks. On Sunday, that meant Aerts was ready to give the World Champion even more headaches.

Toon Aerts stepped up to the chase early in the race. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Toon Aerts stepped up to the chase early in the race. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Aerts caught Van Aert at the start of lap three and pulled around him on an uphill left-hand turn. Once past Van Aert, Aerts showed he was not content with just being in second. He pulled away from his fellow Belgian and established a seven-second gap heading into the mid-part of the race. Aerts’ advantage on Van Aert swelled to 16 seconds after lap 4 of 7 and he even began chipping away at Van der Poel’s first-place advantage.

With three to go, Aerts’ good fortune turned sour in an instant and he relinquished second to Van Aert. At this point, it would be a stretch to say Van Aert achieved a moment of re-birth in the race; he was still chasing 30+ seconds up to Van der Poel. When the lap counter ticked to one, Van der Poel’s advantage on his Belgian rival was 35 seconds.

What could possibly go wrong for the Dutch prodigy?

You Never Know

The answer for Van der Poel was “literally everything.” Early in the last lap, his tire flatted. The impact was likely muted by the muddy course, but he still dropped some time to Van Aert before he reached pit one. Despite the mechanical issue, it did not appear to be a Worlds-caliber disaster for him. He still had a comfortable advantage.

His comfort did not last long.

Shortly after exiting the pit, the drivetrain on Van der Poel’s fresh bike got jammed, and he was forced to dismount and spend the better part of a minute trying to fix it. Van Aert cruised by. Aerts cruised by. He finally fixed it, sort of, and eventually abandoned riding for running. It was a long way to pit two.

Van der Poel found himself doing unfortunate running after a last-lap mechanical. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Van der Poel found himself doing unfortunate running after a last-lap mechanical. 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

With Van der Poel dispatched by a mechanical, Van Aert was free to cruise to victory. Aerts’ earlier trouble meant the World Champion had plenty of time to work with, and he kept the gap back to second at a comfortable margin.

The win was his third of the season and second head-to-head against Van der Poel. The other was the Superprestige Niels Albert CX where Van der Poel took himself out of contention with a crash.

2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Van Aert was muddy but tired after his win at the 2017 Superprestige Gavere. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Aerts took second for the fifth time this season after winning on Saturday at Jaamarktcross in Niel.

During his long run to pit two, Van der Poel was also passed by Klaas Vantournout (Marlux-Napoleon Games). Vantournout is retiring at the end of the season, so every race has the moniker “Klaas’ last ____.”

On Sunday, he was trying to make it a podium finish at Klaas’ last Superprestige Gavere and add another top three for #TeamGinger after Kim van de Steene’s third-place finish in the Women’s race.

Van der Poel regained Vantornout’s wheel in the long power straight before the finish and crushed the ginger’s soul on finishing sprint to take third. An impressive finish after a final lap where he had to run way more than any rider would like to. Van der Poel’s teammate Meeusen rounded out the top five.

With the win, Van Aert gained a small advantage over Van der Poel in the overall Superprestige standings. The next European race is Sunday’s Telenet UCI World Cup in Bogense, Denmark.

Men's Results: 2017 Telenet Superprestige Gavere

RankBIBLast NameFirst NameCountryResult
11VAN AERTWoutBEL00:58:30
27AERTSToonBEL00:59:25
32VAN DER POELMathieuNED00:59:47
419VANTORNOUTKlaasBEL00:59:52
55MEEUSENTomBEL01:00:03
68VAN DER HAARLarsNED01:00:06
711HERMANSQuintenBEL01:00:30
83PAUWELSKevinBEL01:01:19
96VANTHOURENHOUTMichaelBEL01:01:39
1023BAESTAENSVincentBEL01:01:57
1114ADAMSJensBEL01:01:59
1225SWEECKDietherBEL01:02:14
1321CLEPPENicolasBEL01:02:21
1410MERLIERTimBEL01:02:43
1524ADAMSJoeriBEL01:02:54
1613BOROŠMichaelCZE01:03:05
179NIEUWENHUISJorisNED01:03:14
1815VAN DER POELDavidNED01:03:36
1934PEETERSRobBEL01:03:56
2020GODRIEStanNED01:04:45
2116BERTOLINIGioeleITA01:05:06
2233HOEYBERGHSDaanBEL01:05:43
2327VAN DER MEERGosseNEDLAP
2431KAISEJulienBELLAP
2526VAN COMPERNOLLEKennethBELLAP
2622TAKENOUCHIYuJPNLAP
DNF4SWEECKLaurensBEL
DNF12VERMEERSCHGianniBEL
DNF17ISERBYTEliBEL
DNF18VANTHOURENHOUTDieterBEL
DNF28TIELENDarioBEL
DNF32MEISENMarcelGER
DNF35WALSLEBENPhilippGER