Thus far this season, one could argue an asterisk should be placed next Wout van Aert’s (Crelan-Charles) wins over Dutch rival Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon). A crash. A mechanical. Van der Poel has been on another level and it has seemed Van Aert needs some help to reach the top step.
On Sunday at the Namur World Cup, there would be no asterisk.
After last year’s noted struggles on the famed rutted off-camber, Van Aert took his first lead of the race through the section and then, with Van der Poel trailing, he attacked. And then he just kept attacking.
After one lap his lead on Van der Poel and the others was 19 seconds. That would be the closest anyone got to the rejuvenated World Champion. Van Aert extended his lead to nearly two minutes at one point and won in utterly dominating fashion.
Mayhem at the Start
The start at Namur is an imposing one. Riders blast off the pavement and head straight up the course’s longest climb. A fast start is essential since the climb quickly narrows up at the top.
In the Men’s race on Sunday, avoiding a crash was the key to starting well. Unfortunately, nearly a third of the field went down and sentimental ginger favorite Klaas Vantournout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) had his last race at Namur ended in a matter of seconds.
His teammate Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) was the fast starter along with Van Aert. Van der Poel got off to a so-so start, slotting in around sixth after the prologue, but he quickly moved up to third. Last year at Namur, he controlled the race, so there was no reason to suspect he would not eventually move to the lead.
Part of Van der Poel’s 2016 success was thanks to his mastery on the steep hills that forced many riders off their bikes in 2017. On the first steep ascent, Van der Poel slipped out while trying to move up. It was the first of many mistakes that would plague his afternoon.
Another key to Van der Poel’s 2016 win was Van Aert’s struggles on the notorious rutted off-camber. The defending World Champion struggled in the section all day last year and took at least two nasty falls.
In 2017, he had the section dialed in. Prior to the race, Crelan-Charles coach Neils Albert was working with Van Aert on how to get through the section and the coaching paid off.
Van Aert took the lead after acing the ruts and then with Van der Poel behind him, he attacked. With the big climb nearby, he kept attacking. Seemingly fresh from his Spanish training vacation with Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com), Van Aert was willing to test his freshness and try to bury his rival.
Bury he did. Van Aert’s lead was 19 seconds after the first lap.
Behind Van Aert, Van der Poel and Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) broke from the other riders in the chase. Van der Poel pulled the front and took up the chase of the leader. At least he did for a bit. Van der Poel did not seem to have the same kick he usually does and his chase was short-lived. He and Aerts then started to battle for position.
Van der Poel opened up a lead when Aerts slipped at the bottom of one of the descents. Maybe this would be the gap Van der Poel needed to get away from Aerts and chase down Van Aert. A third of the way through the nine-lap race, Van der Poel had 11 seconds on Aerts. However, he still trailed the World Champion by 40.
The fourth lap more or less ended any chance of Van der Poel chasing down Van Aert. He crashed on the rutted off-camber and Aerts moved back into second. Van Aert’s lead was now at a minute and it would only grow.
Van Aert extended his lead to 1:38 heading into the last lap. The laatste ronde was a coronation for the Belgian hero. While the raucous crowd cheered him up a run-up, he acknowledged the support with a wave to the fans.
The win was not the biggest of Van Aert’s career or maybe even the season, but given how 2017 has gone for the defending World Champion, winning in dominant fashion was a welcome relief and coupled with his strong race on Saturday, it adds a bit of intrigue to the Men’s races heading into the Kerstperiode races of Zolder, Azencross, Diegem and the GP Sven Nys.
While Van Aert was dominating, Van der Poel and Aerts were wheel-to-wheel. During the last lap, Van der Poel suffered his final costly mishap. Riding the right side along the barrier, he crashed and went over the rope and barrier on the descent where Aerts slipped earlier in the race.
He was still able to recover and get near Aerts heading into the finishing sprint, but with a short stretch after the corner, Aerts’ first position was too much. Aerts podiumed at the Bogense and Zeven World Cups, but his second at Namur was his top World Cup finish of the season. Van der Poel took third.
Last year’s third-place finisher Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) came on strong late in the race to take fourth and his teammate Vanthourenhout took fifth.
The last block of World Cup racing was not kind to U.S. National Champion Hyde. A mechanical derailed his race at Bogense and a couple crashes marred his afternoon at Zeven.
On Sunday, Hyde showed he too needed the Spanish vacation along with Van Aert. Hyde avoided the crash at the start and climbed the first hill to the top ten. He stayed there throughout the race and finished 11th for his best World Cup finish since taking 10th at Jingle Cross in 2016.
Americans Jeremy Durrin (Neon Velo) and Andrew Juiliano (Grit World Racing) finished 51st and 52nd.
Men's Results: 2017 World Cup Namur
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Age||Result|
|3||18||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||22||1:08:53|
|19||20||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||26||1:12:52|
|20||21||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||25||1:13:02|
|36||25||VAN DER MEER||Gosse||NED||22||LAP|
|37||24||VAN DEN BRAND||Twan||NED||28||LAP|
|39||64||RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBAÑEZ||Javier||ESP||38||LAP|