Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) emerged victorious from the mud of Gavere after a tight three-way battle with Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) which put minutes into the rest of the field on Boxing Day.
Within just five minutes of racing, it was the powerful trio of Van der Poel, Van Aert and Pidcock who were away from the bunch, showing their cards early and boldly – and it was a lead they would hold onto for the entire race.
It was back and forth between Pidcock and Van der Poel for the race lead, with the two repeatedly catching then dropping each other, whilst Van Aert held back in third position for much of the race.
Eventually, Van der Poel grabbed hold of the lead, spending the last two laps solo to take the win. Finishing third in the end, Tom Pidcock is left still waiting for a World Cup win in his rainbow bands.
“I just really wanted to win,” Van der Poel said at the finish. “In Mol [Exact Cross on Friday] I was not really satisfied, but I was determined to do a good result today.”
“I think a lot of factors [decided the race]. This course is really hard but also technical. For me, at least, it was a really nice race, I enjoyed it, lots of people. I’m happy with my victory.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
Despite a long, mud-soaked race ahead of them, there was no hesitation from the favourites as Mathieu van der Poel hit the front early, stomping his dominance on the race in front of Tom Pidcock and Laurens Sweeck (Crelan Fristads). Sweeck was soon replaced by Van Aert, putting three of the biggest names in the lead just one lap into a rare meeting of all three cyclocross heavyweights.
Crossing the finish line for the first time, Van der Poel and Pidcock were together, with Van Aert nine seconds back. A flat tire at the start of the second lap saw Van der Poel drop back from the lead, but he was able to pit quickly and hold onto second position. As a result, Van der Poel was joined by Van Aert, whilst the world champion Pidcock was solo in the lead, but with a relatively slim advantage.
On the third lap, Pidcock was caught on the lap’s biggest climb, his choice to stay on the bike losing out to the running Van Aert and Van der Poel. After the catch, it was Van der Poel who took the opportunity to accelerate, saving a near-miss on the steep descent to claim the race lead, a handful of seconds ahead of Van Aert as Pidcock slipped to third. At the halfway point of the race, Van der Poel crossed the line 14 seconds clear of the chasers Van Aert and Pidcock, with Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels-Sauzen) another 10 seconds behind.
A number of small but repeated missteps from Van Aert on the fourth lap allowed Pidcock to slowly edge away from the Belgian, and as a result begin to close down the gap to Van der Poel. However, it proved difficult to fully close the gap, with Van der Poel maintaining a six second lead going into the final two laps. It was in the pits of the fifth lap that Pidcock was finally able to catch the Dutch rider.
The two looked to be riding away from Van Aert, but a big effort from the Belgian saw him come back past Pidcock, who was perhaps paying for his earlier chasing efforts. With Van Aert chasing, Van der Poel pressed on, finally building a solid solo lead. Van Aert slowly clawed back a few seconds in the final lap, but Van der Poel’s strength proved unassaible, and he arrived solo to the finish to take his third World Cup win of the season. The top three remained the same as it had since the opening lap, with Van Aert in second and Pidcock settling for third.
The trio put over a minute into fourth place finisher Michael Vanthourenhout, seemingly a level above the rest of the field. Series leader Laurens Sweeck finished sixth to extend his stay in the leader’s jersey.