Wout Van Aert made it a perfect season when he won the hugely anticipated battle with Mathieu van der Poel at the World Championships on his home soil in Heusden-Zolder. After a dramatic race in which both pre-race favourites lost ground in a crash, he made his way back to lone leader Lars van der Haar whom he distanced on the final climb to claim a solo win. Van der Haar was five seconds behind in second while Kevin Pauwels beat Sven Nys and a disappointed van der Poel in the battle for third.
Wout Van Aert has won the Belgian Championships and the overall World Cup and Bpost Bank Trofeee titles and only disaster can prevent him from winning the Superprestige as well. To make it the perfect season, he just needed one win, the most prestigious of them all at the World Championships.
In the last few weeks, however, it has been all about his archrival Mathieu van der Poel who has been in a class of his own, winning the two final rounds of the World Cup in the last two weekends. Hence, the defending champion went into today’s battle for the rainbow jersey as the overwhelming favourite after Van Aert had taken a beating last weekend. However, the Belgian was always confident that he would be able to take on the pre-race favourite and he lived up to his promise in the most spectacular fashion as he won a very dramatic and exciting race on his home soil in Heusden-Zolder.
Both Van Aert and van der Poel had been keen to make the race hard right from the beginning but as they were unable to drop each other and a very strong Lars van der Haar, more and more riders rejoined the front group which swelled to 8 riders in the fifth lap. Van Aert was doing most of the work while van der Poel made a few small attacks but never managed to put his Belgian rival into difficulty.
Both riders took a few easy laps as they prepared themselves for the finale and it was the Dutchmen who took the initiative in the fifth lap when van der Haar moved to the front with van der Poel on his wheel. Van Aert moved into third when disaster struck for both pre-race favourites.
Van der Poel slid out as he tried to run up a muddy climb and his foot got stuck in Van Aert’s front wheel. The two rivals allied as they tried to get back on their bikes but it took several second to free the foot. As a consequence, they suddenly found themselves more than 20 seconds behind van der Haar who had used the incident to escape.
Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys formed a Belgian chase duo while van der Poel made several mistakes as he desperately tried to chase back. As opposed to this, Van Aert calmly paced his way back to his two compatriots whom he quickly distanced.
At the start of the penultimate lap, Van Aert was 12 seconds behind while van der Poel had 30 seconds to make up. The Belgian made the junction halfway through the lap but as van der Poel had now passed Nys and Pauwels and was approaching from behind, he didn’t get any help from his companion who was waiting for his teammate to get back. Hence, Van Aert had to do all the work.
Van Aert set a fast pace which made it evident that van der Poel would not make it back and as they started the final half of the circuit, it was a two-rider battle. Van der Haar tried to hit the front when they got to the hardest point but it was evident that Van Aert was the strongest. He made the difference on the final two climbs and van der Haar had to surrender on the final ascent which gave the Belgian time to celebrate a solo win when he turned onto the tarmac.
A disappointed van der Poel sat up in the finale and was passed by both Pauwels and Nys. The former took the bronze medal while the latter sat up to wave goodbye to his many fans after his final Worlds race.
Van Aert will get his first chance to wear his new jersey if he decides to line up in the smaller race in Maldegem on Wednesday. The next major races are Saturday’s Bpost race in Sint-Niklaas and Sunday’s Superprestige race in Middelkerke.
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Belgium cyclo-cross kevin pauwels lars van der haar Mathieu van der Poel rainbow jersey sven nys UCI world championships Wout van aert zolder