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With a powerful counterattack in the final lap of the World Cup race in Namur, van der Poel finally managed to beat Van Aert in a major cyclo-cross; Pauwels took third and Van Aert extended his overall lead

Photo: Thomas Nyhus / Rawshooter










20.12.2015 @ 17:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mathieu van der Poel finally managed to beat his archrival Wout Van Aert in the 2015-2016 cyclo-cross season when he came out on top in the World Cup race in Namur. After a three-rider battle that also involved Kevin Pauwels, the world champion countered Van Aert’s big attack on the final lap and dropped his Belgian rival to take his first season win in a major series. Second place was enough for Van Aert to extend his overall World Cup lead as Sven Nys could only manage 8th.


The 2015-2016 cyclo-cross season has been a big test of patience for Mathieu van der Poel. A knee injury postponed his debut until late November and even though he has shown lots of progress since his first race, he has been unable to beat his archrival Wout Van Aert who has been the dominant figure until now.


In his first races, van der Poel spectacularly blew up when he tried to follow Van Aert and yesterday he claimed to have learned from his mistakes when he never tried to follow his Belgian rival at the Scheldecross in Antwerp, instead focusing on defending his second place.


Many would have expected him to have a similar approach to today’s World Cup race in Namur but this time the world champion decided to gamble. The strategy paid off as the world champion finally managed to beat Van Aert and claim a beautiful win on the hilly course in Wallonia.


Van der Poel had been less aggressive than usual in the first part of the race and had managed to rejoin Van Aert when the Belgian made his first attack just after the midpoint. Kevin Pauwels also made the junction and as everybody else soon lost lots of ground, it became obvious that it was a three-rider battle for the win.


Van Aert set the pace for most of the time but was unable to get rid of his rivals. With his confidence clearly increasing, van der Poel took over a few times later in the race and it was even Pauwels who tried to distance his two rivals in the first part of the final lap.


Van der Poel waited patiently until he slightly upped the pace in the second half of the circuit but everybody was expecting a big attack from Van Aert. Clad in his white World Cup jersey, the Belgian finally went full gas on the hardest climb and if things had been as they usually are, he would just have ridden away.


Unsurprisingly, Pauwels lost a bit of ground but this time van der Poel didn’t crack. The world champion stayed glued to the wheel and when Van Aert started to fade near the top of the climb, the Dutch fans went wild. Van der Poel still had something left in the tank and instead of stopping his effort too, he countered Van Aert, passing and finally dropping the strong Belgian. Van der Poel sprinted onto the finishing straight before sitting up to celebrate the win while a dejected Van Aert had to settle for second, with Pauwels rounding out the podium.


However, it was not all bad for Van Aert. Going into the race, he had held a narrow five-point lead over Sven Nys. The veteran had clearly been motivated to try to take over the lead but he had a surprisingly bad day and could only manage 8th. As a consequence, Van Aert extended his advantage to 29 points with races left in the 7-race series.


The next round will be held on Boxing Day in Heusden-Zold, with the Worlds dress rehearsal also being the next major event on the cyclo-cross calendar.


How it unfolded:

After a few races with a slow start, Sven Nys had no intention to leave anything to chance in Namur. As soon as the flag was dropped to signal the start, the veteran took control and immediately strung out the field. He was followed by Corne van Kessel, overall leader Wout Van Aert and Tom Meeusen while Mathieu van der Poel was trying to move up after a less than ideal start.


Nys was riding surprisingly hard right from the beginning and when he accelerated on one of the hardest climbs, only Van Aert could keep up with him. While the two Belgians rode away, van Kessel and Meeusen had to run up the slopes as they led the field. However, Meeusen managed to rejoin the leading pair before they reached the finish for the first time. Van Kessel, Clement Venturini, Lars van der Haar, Toon Aerts, Laurens Sweeck, Mathieu van der Poel, Stan Godrie, Kevin Pauwels and Michael Vanthourenhout made up the first chase group which was 8 seconds behind.


The leading trio was not ready to go full gas yet and as Van Aert took over the pace-setting, the chase group and a few more riders made it back. Aerts made use of the slower pace to make an attack but Van Aert initially refused to let anyone go. Finally, he slowed down though and Aerts was allowed to create a gap.


At the second passage of the finish line, Aerts had an advantage over of 5 seconds over a small chase group that included Van Aert, Nys, Meeusen, Venturini, van der Poel, Vanthourenhout, van der Haar and Pauwels. Meanwhile, his teammate van Kessel abandoned the race.


Van Aert and Nys had done most of the work but were not really going full has yet. Instead, it was Venturini who took over the pace-setting as they started the third lap and he slowly reeled Aerts in. Meanwhile, Michael Boros made the junction from behind while Meeusen was dropped and Vanthourenhout taken out of contention by bad luck so it was an 8-rider group that started the third lap together.


Boros went straight to the front to up the pace while Nys suddenly seemed to be suffering at the back. Van der Haar quickly took over and only Boros, Van Aert and van der Poel could initially match his pace. However, Pauwels, Aerts and Venturini had made it back as they crossed the finish line and moments later Nys and Klaas Vantornout also made the junction.


Van der Haar was apparently not suffering from his crash in yesterday’s race and he attacked right from the start of the next lap. He got an immediate gap but then again had bad luck as he went down in a tight turn. He was quickly back on his bike though and remained in first position even though his chasers had now rejoined him.


Van der Haar continued to set the pace until Van Aert decided that it was time to test his rivals. As soon as the overall World Cup leader hit the front, he created a gap and it looked like he was riding away with another victory.


Yesterday van der Poel had focused on second place and not even tried to follow Van Aert. However, he had different plans for today’s race and with a swift acceleration he made it back to his Belgian archrival. Defending champion Pauwels hadn’t given up either and took off in lone pursuit of the two youngsters. Venturini also managed to escape while Aerts, van der Haar, Nys, Vatornout and Boros stayed together.


Pauwels made the junction before they reached the finish while Venturini arrived 9 seconds later. Things were much worse for the Nys group which had already been distanced by 22 seconds.


Van Aert continued to set the pace as they tackled the next lap but he was unable to shake off his rivals. Meanwhile, Vantornout and Nys took turns on the front of the big chase group but both that group and Venturini was constantly losing ground. As they reached the finish line again, the French chase had been distanced by 18 seconds while the 5-rider group was 20 seconds further adrift.


Nys was apparently not feeling good and as they tackled the first part of the circuit, he was dropped. Instead, it was van der Haar and Vantornout who were able to make a difference while van der Poel finally took over the pace-setting in the front group. He stayed in front for most of the lap until Van Aert again took over just before they reached the finish line again. Venturini was getting closer though and crossed the line with a deficit of 12 seconds, with van der Haar and Vantornout following at 21 seconds. Aerts was next at 28 seconds while Nys was already 48 seconds behind.


Van der Poel was obviously feeling good and he tried to attack again as soon as they started the penultimate lap. This time Van Aert had no immediate response and it briefly looked like the world champion was riding away. However, Van Aert and Pauwels soon got back and the former went straight to the front to set the pace. Van der Poel again took over but as they started the final lap, it was even Pauwels who had hit the front. Meanwhile, Venturini was fading was passed by Vantornout and van der Haar who crossed the line 20 seconds behind the leaders, with Aerts and the Cofidis rider following at 33 seconds. Nys was more than 45 seconds behind in 8th.


Pauwels was allowed to set the pace in the first part of the final lap until van der Poel took over. The world champion made a big attack but was unable to shake Van Aert off. Instead, the dominant rider of the season countered the move and looked like he had van der Poel in trouble.


However, only Pauwels fell off and when Van Aert sat down, van der Poel had enough left to counter the move. The world champion passed the fading Van Aert and had time to celebrate his first season victory in one of the major series. Van Aert and Pauwels completed the podium while Vantornout rode a strong final lap to distance van der Haar who had to settle for fifth, followed by Aerts, Venturini and Nys



1. Mathieu van der Poel

2. Wout van Aert +0.01

3. Kevin Pauwels +0.07

4. Klaas Vantornout +0.42

5. Lars van der Haar +0.58

6. Toon Aerts +1.00

7. Clement Venturini +1.01

8. Sven Nys +1.40

9. Julien Taramarcaz +1.49

10. Thijs van Amerongen +1.50


Overall standings:

1. Wout van Aert 290

2. Sven Nys 261

3. Lars van der Haar 255

4. Kevin Pauwels 226

5. Laurens Sweeck 183

6. Julien Taramarcaz 181

7. Toon Aerts 154

8. Tom Meeusen 151

9. Thijs van Amerongen 149

10. Mathieu van der Poel 145



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