Belgians win thrilling races on day 2
The home crowd finally had something to celebrate during the second day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. On a stormy Saturday the Belgians had to be content with a bronze medal for Sanne Cant in the Women’s category. The weather had improved slightly on Sunday and so did the Belgians. They captured two rainbow jerseys at the former F1 car racing circuit in Heusden-Zolder. Wout Van Aert (Belgium) won a thrilling race in the Elite Men category, bouncing back from a seemingly lost position after an foot-in-wheel incident with defending champion Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands). Van Aert held off European champion Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) in the final lap. On Sunday morning young Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) won the World title in the Men Under 23 category in the sprint against Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic). The latter thought he’d won the race one lap earlier, fought back but fell just short for the real victory.
There were 61 riders from 20 nations at the start of the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships race in the Elite Men category. Defending champion Mathieu van der Poel was the top favourite to prolong his title. The other favourites were Belgian champion Wout Van Aert and European champion Lars van der Haar. The trio lived up to the expectations with a blistering acceleration at the end of the opening lap. Though several riders managed to bridge back up in the following laps it was clear that only these three riders had the weapons to win the rainbow jersey.
Halfway the race an incident turned the dynamics around when the lead group had grown to ten riders. Van der Poel misjudged the first corner of the very difficult off-camber section, hopping off his bike and landing with his foot in Van Aert’s front wheel. While Van der Haar powered away in front the duo was trying to untange Van der Poel’s foot out of Van Aert’s spokes. What seemed like ages was in fact ten seconds but the incident changed the race completely. From a controlling position the duo was suddenly thrown to the back of the top 10. Van der Poel lost his focus and never managed to get back to the front. He came back to third place in the final lap but eventually finished fifth. Van Aert seemed to use the incident to switch on his turbo, fighting back from tenth place.
Van der Haar had a bonus of more than ten seconds on first chasers Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys with two laps to go. Nevertheless the Dutch rider shifted back when realizing an unleashed Van Aert was on his way. With a blistering fast sixth of eight laps he fought back from tenth place and halfway the seventh lap he bridged up to leader Van der Haar. At the end of the race the duo fought for the lead position ahead of the steep final climb. It was Van Aert who emerged first and found a better acceleration at the top of the climb, gaining a small gap. Van der Haar realized he was defeated and sat up.
After taking on the final corner Van Aert hit the finishing straight on the Zolder car racing circuit, taking time to celebrate with the thousands of fans and get his first World title in the Elite Men category. Van der Haar came up with a strong fight but had to be content with the silver medal. Pauwels won the battle for third place, finishing just ahead of cyclo-cross legend Sven Nys. The latter took his time when reaching the finish, waving to the crowd in his final World championships race. The Van der Poel-brothers finished in fifth and sixth place.
Men Under 23
On Sunday morning Eli Iserbyt captured the first golden medal for Belgium at their World championships. Last year Iserbyt fell just short on winning the world title in the Junior Men category in Tábor, Czech Republic. One year later the 18 year-old Belgian rider dominated the whole season in the Men U23 category. Iserbyt won the World Cup and on Sunday morning Iserbyt won a hard-fought World championships race on the muddy home soil in Heusden-Zolder.
One lap before the end of a rain-soaked race there was major consternation when Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic) thought he was the new World champion. The Czech gapped Gioele Bertolini (Italy) and Belgian riders Iserbyt and Quinten Hermans shortly before the end of the lap. Toupalik then raised his arms to celebrate, not paying attention to the ringing bell for the last lap. The Czech realized his mistake and tried to close the gap on the three leaders.
Bertolini crashed away in front and he was passed by Toupalik who quickly bridged back up with European champion Hermans and Iserbyt. Toupalik hammered forward towards the finishing straight and only Iserbyt was glued on his wheel. Iserbyt timed his sprint to perfection and easily beat Toupalik. Hermans joined his compatriot on the podium, starting what turned out to be a long Belgian party on Sunday.
The two races on Sunday concluded the World championships which offered spectators all around the world a magnificent view on true cyclo-cross. The muddy conditions provided a challenging course which riders used to offer a great show. The new World champions are Wout Van Aert (Belgium) in the Elite Men category and Thalita de Jong (Netherlands) in the Women category. In the youth categories there are three new World champions. They are Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) in the Men Under 23 category, Evie Richards (Great-Britain) in the Women Under 23 category and Jens Dekker (Netherlands) in the Men Juniors category.
Next year the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships are held in Luxembourg.