Kerstperiode cyclocross racing always draws big crowds and a lot of attention in Belgium, but Friday’s Azencross Loenhout was on another level thanks to the return of three-time world champ Wout van Aert (Jumbo – Visma) after his horrible crash at the Tour de France.
Before the race, Van Aert said he was unsure how his return to the field would go, but with a front-row start and the confidence of his rival Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus), the large crowd was expecting a good show from the former champ.
Van Aert wanted to show himself right away as he took today’s holeshot. On the same flyover where European champion Yara Kastelijn went down in the Women’s race, World Champion Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) crashed and went to the back of the field.
Just as in the World Cup race in Koksijde, Van der Poel would have to make his way back from the back of the pack.
Long-time rival van Aert lost some positions on a technical section with barriers and a ditch. Not wanting to have an injury again, he decided to run while the others were bunny hopping and jumping.
After van der Poel crashed where Kastelijn had crashed, Belgian national road champion Tim Merlier (Creafin – Fristads) crashed where Worst had crashed. A tricky course, so proved the similar incidents.
It was DVV leader Eli Iserbyt who passed the finish line in first position after one lap. He had a little gap on Corné van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions) and a 7-second advantage on a group that included Van Aert.
Van der Poel had an arrear of 38 seconds. Could he turn this around? He certainly had a lot of work to do just one lap into the race.
Merlier, Jim Aernouts (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) then escaped the group with Van Aert, while Van der Poel was trying to bridge towards that group. He succeeded by the end of the second lap but still faced a 24 seconds arrear on Iserbyt and Van Kessel.
In Lap 3, Van der Poel made his way up through the chasing group to the wheel of van Aert. Going toward the iconic washboard rollers, he started pushing hard. He bridged the gap with Merlier, Sweeck and Aernouts, but still faced a 23 seconds arrear.
Van der Poel, wanting to make it to the front of the race, soon left Merlier, Aernouts and Sweeck behind. Iserbyt, not wanting Van der Poel to return, lifted the pace and dropped Van Kessel.
Unfortunately for Iserbyt, the “Flying Dutchman” had an outstanding day once again. First, he caught up with van Kessel only to leave him behind. Then 40 minutes into the race, Van der Poel finally made it to the front of the race.
Twice Iserbyt managed to close a gap after two better mud passages by Van der Poel, but when van der Poel accelerated in the last lap, Iserbyt had no response anymore. Once again van der Poel took the victory, this time after a strong comeback.
“It was a very tough catch-up race because it was a difficult track to pass riders,” Van der Poel said (translated). “On the bridge, I rode over a sandbag, which was loose already, so there was not much I could do about my crash. I couldn’t do anything else than stay calm, ride my own race and catch up with riders until I was back in front. I divided my race well. When I was back in front, I had given my best already, so I didn’t have much left to make Iserbyt break.”
Iserbyt finished second and kept his lead in the DVV Trofee classification. Van Kessel took third.
Van Aert finished fifth, as he was beaten in the sprint for fourth by Merlier. When he passed the finish line, van Aert pointed to the sky, a tribute to his recently deceased grandmother.
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld) finished 17th, Curtis White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld) 20th, Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano) 24th, Michael van den Ham (Easton-Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare) 25th, Andrew Juiliano (Voler Pro CX / Cure IBD p/b Shi) 37th, Max Judelson (Voler/Clif/HRS/Rock Lobster) 44th, Cameron Jette 45th and Andrew Giniat (The Pony Shop p/b KPMG) 47th.
Full results are below.
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|1||1||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:00:26|
|10||5||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||1:02:07|
|18||8||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||1:05:02|
|25||43||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||CAN||1:06:46|
|31||65||VAN STAEYEN||Maarten||BEL||-1 LAP|
|35||27||JUNQUERA SAN MILLAN||Mario||ESP||-1 LAP|
|40||32||AALRUST||Henrik Lunder||NOR||-2 LAPS|
|46||24||POBLET DOT||Albert||ESP||-4 LAPS|
|48||53||LE BAIL||Tony||FRA||-4 LAPS|
|50||55||VAN DEN BERG||Bart||NED||-4 LAPS|
|54||28||LLANEZA ARGUELLES||Miguel||ESP||-5 LAPS|
|55||37||DALLA PIETA’||Kevin||ITA||-5 LAPS|