Cyclo-cross: Mathieu Van der Poel imperial in Antwerp, for his reunion with Van Aert and Pidcock

It was time for a big reunion

Cyclo-cross: Mathieu Van der Poel imperial in Antwerp, for his reunion with Van Aert and Pidcock

It was time for a big reunion. On Saturday December 23, the “fantastic three” of cyclo-cross – the Belgian Wout Van Aert, the Dutch Mathieu Van der Poel and the British Tom Pidcock – competed for the first time this season on the Antwerp circuit, in Belgium. After having fought some epic battles last year, their confrontation was awaited by everyone. It quickly turned into a demonstration.

The guilty ? A Mathieu Van der Poel of the great days. Already a winner last year in the sand of Sint-Annastrand in Antwerp, the five-time world champion in the discipline crushed the competition. Rainbow jersey on his back – he also won the title of road world champion last summer in Glasgow – he won solo with 29 seconds ahead of Wout Van Aert, who only never seemed able to keep up with him. Current leader of the World Cup, Belgian Eli Iserbyt completes the podium. As for Tom Pidcock, victim of a fall in the first lap, the English rider from Ineos finished in eighth place, unable to keep up with the best when the pace increased.

However, the race started badly for the winner of Milan San-Remo 2023. At the start, the Dutchman took off his shoes and found himself far from the race lead. Technically comfortable on the varied terrain of the Antwerp course, the grandson of Raymond Poulidor embarked on an express comeback, taking the lead on the third lap – never to leave it again. Aerial on the sandy sections and releasing impressive power, the 26-year-old rider left his opponents no chance.

The Cyclo-cross World Cup in February in the viewfinder

“I completely missed my start. But I never panicked because I felt that the legs were good today, Van der Poel told Eurosport after his recital. Then I tried to create as big a gap as possible. I am very happy because I managed to hold on until the end. »

The Dutchman thus signs his third success of the winter in as many outings in Antwerp. After his victories in Herentals (Netherlands), on December 16, and at the Exact Cross in Mol (Belgium), on Friday, the five-time world champion in the discipline once again establishes himself as the rider to beat this winter .

Elected Dutch sportsman of the year this week, ahead of Max Verstappen, Mathieu Van der Poel emulates the Red Bull driver in his insatiable appetite for victories. If the trips in the undergrowth are now for him only “an occupation for the winter” – the road season having priority –, he will have the World Cup in Tabor (Czech Republic), on February 4, 2024, in point of focus before tipping onto the road. He intends to glean a sixth rainbow jersey there, in the absence of Wout Van Aert and Tom Pidcock, who chose to skip. A new success in February would allow the Dutch rider to be only one length behind the legend of the discipline, Eric De Vlaeminck, winner of seven world titles between 1966 and 1973.

The expected confrontation between the three prodigies of “total cycling” did not take place in Antwerp, as Mathieu Van der Poel dominated the meeting. But the three men have another meeting, Tuesday December 26, once again in “the flat country”, in Gavre. Where the wearer of the rainbow jersey risks once again lighting up the Belgian sky with his flashes.