Wout van Aert made the most of Mathieu van der Poel’s mid-race mechanical to take the lead and ride off with his second straight world title at the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championship in Bieles, Luxembourg on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Belgian found himself chasing his Dutch rival under cold gray skies and over sloppy conditions for the first half of the race, but back-to-back bike changes cost Van der Poel, 22, valuable time and allowed the defending world champion, who was down 21 seconds, back in the race. After swapping leads in the latter half of the fifth lap, Van Aert was able to pass the 2015 world champion on the line leading into lap 6 due to a rear puncture on the Dutchman’s bike.
“[Van der Poel] had a flat tire on the finish line, so it is a long way to the pit lane,” Van Aert said. “It was one of the most important things in the race, but it is also cyclo-cross. I also had a flat, but I was lucky because it was in front of the pits, so that’s part of cyclo-cross, I think.
After skipping the Hoogerheide World Cup last week and trailing at the start of the race, Van Aert admitted he was surprised with the day’s result.
“I really didn’t expect this,” he said. “I was one week without the bike and it seems like nobody believed it was the best preparation. I just wanted to give it full gas for one hour. After the start I thought it would be a race for second place, but in the second lap I found my rhythm and when that worked I believed it was possible to win. Of course I was lucky Matheiu had a flat tire, so it was a little bit more easy for me to get back.”
A visibly emotional Van der Poel finished 44 seconds back in second after suffering what he claimed were several punctures on the day.
“It’s no fun to lose a race due to bad luck,” the 22-year-old told Sporza. “It’s the biggest disappointment of my career.
“Despite my disappointment, I had great fun for the full hour on this real ‘cross course. The punctures were just too much. It cost too much time and energy.”
Veteran Kevin Pauwels (BEL), who admittedly flatted three times, took third (+2:09), while Lars van der Haar (NED), Corne van Kessel (NED) and Laurens Sweeck (BEL) all crossed the line with flat tires immediately after.
Van der Haar, who has fully recovered since suffering a torn rectus femoris muscle during the Superprestige Ruddevoorde in November, was also frustrated with his own numerous flats.
“Six flats were too much to overcome,” Van der Haar told Sporza. “I think I could’ve gotten third place easily. I did everything to avoid punctures but it kept happening. I’m happy with fourth place though after what happened in November.”