Mathieu van der Poel wins his first race back after an injury at the Hulst World Cup in cyclocross
OKBET cycling Returning to cyclocross with a bang, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won the Hulst World Cup with an impressive display of strength. Van van Poel, despite starting at the back of the grid, made up for lost time and pulled ahead of defending world champion Tom Pidcock of the Ineos Grenadiers with little over two laps to go.
Saturday’s X20 Trofee Kortrijk winner, Pidcock, had Van der Poel in his sights when he rang the bell, but a fractured rim on the last lap cost the Briton the chance for a podium finish.
Pidcock’s tragedy handed second place to Laurens Sweeck of Crelan-Fristads, who finished in 15 seconds, and third place to Eli Iserbyt of Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal, who finished in 22 seconds.
You couldn’t argue with Van der Poel’s dominance, however. The Dutchman hadn’t lined up for a cyclocross race since Christmas of last year, when a back issue caused him to withdraw from Superprestige Heusden-Zolder. However, his sheer power more than made up for any technical rustiness today.
Mathieu van der Poel
Technically, I made a lot of errors, but I believe that’s natural, Van der Poel stated. It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in cyclocross, so I’m thrilled to be back in the sport. It’s been a long time since I’ve won a cyclocross race, so this is a nice feeling.
Last year was a bad season. Due to my back problem, I only participated in one and a half cyclocross races, so I wouldn’t really call it a season. When I’ve already said, I was in fine shape as I made my way to Hulst. The form turned out just as I hoped it would, and for that I am grateful.
Van der Poel had to start near the back of the pack due to his lack of cyclocross competition over the winter, but he quickly made his way through the field to give himself a chance at the day’s prizes despite the unusually early start time necessitated to avoid a conflict with Belgium’s match against Morocco in the FIFA World Cup.
Despite a momentary setback after an accident, Van der Poel was still among the front-runners when Lars van der Haar led the race into the start-finish area at the conclusion of the first lap. Two circuits in, Pidcock had found his groove as he led Sweeck through the line, with Van der Poel now in a group at 17 seconds.
With that, Van der Poel started his forcing. Van van Poel recorded the quickest lap of the day to cut the distance to Pidcock et al. at the head of the race, despite being uncomfortable on some of the muddier, more technical bits (even by his own lofty standards of bike handling, of course).
After three circuits, Van der Poel had warmed up to the challenge and was in the lead alongside Pidcock and Sweeck. It seemed like Van der Poel was getting ready to launch an assault when he took off his glasses and then his gloves, much like Marco Pantani did on Alpe d’Huez. On the fourth lap, he made the key assault, taking advantage of a mistake by Pidcock to go ahead.
Pidcock, unlike Van der Poel, had raced in Kortrijk on Saturday, which may have contributed to his fatigue. The world champion closed the advantage to five seconds at the end of lap four, but Van der Poel doubled it by the end of the next lap.
In the last lap, Van der Poel suffered his second fall of the day, giving Pidcock an opportunity to close the deficit, but when the Dutchman took the bell with 12 seconds in hand, it appeared as if only a serious accident could deny him.
Instead, it was Pidcock who had bad luck, when he crashed on the last lap after riding through the pits and breaking his back tire. Sweeck, the new World Cup leader, finished second, ahead of Iserbyt, while Van der Haar placed fourth (30 seconds behind), and Joris Nieuwenhuis finished fifth (49 seconds back).
Damage control was the name of the game, and they were the only guys to cross the line within a minute of the rampaging Van der Poel. “When I saw Mathieu overtaking me in the first lap, I believed he was going to ride away with one minute, but I’m satisfied with how I performed,” Iserbyt revealed.
Van der Poel’s absence from the first half of the World Cup means he won’t be a contender for the overall crown, but his first cyclocross outing of the season underlined his preparedness to attempt to recapture the world title in Hoogerheide in February. Currently, Van der Poel competes in the Boom Superprestige and the Antwerp World Cup next weekend, with Wout van Aert making his season debut in the latter event.
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“There’s still more work to do to be truly at my top level but I can only be very delighted with today,” Van der Poel added. I’ll have to do a couple cyclocross events to get back into shape. Although I am in excellent physical condition because to my time spent training in Spain, I believe that I may benefit from further cross-bike specialized training. In any case, I’m hoping to be at my very best by the end of the year.