Mathieu van der Poel once again proved his class on Sunday, taking his third cyclocross rainbow jersey, and his second in two years.
The Dutchman led the race in Dubendorf, Switzerland from start to finish, winning the race by 1.08 from British rider Tom Pidcock.
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Riding in his first elite World Championships, Pidcock’s was a remarkable performance, outclassing a horde of Belgian riders, with Toon Aerts finishing third, 25 seconds behind him.
With the result Pidcock becomes the first British man to finish on the podium of the cyclocross World Championships, once again proving his immense promise after winning both Junior and Under 23 titles in recent years.
In contrast to previous races this season, where van der Poel has held back during the opening third of races, the Dutchman attacked from the gun, leading by 12 seconds at the end of the first of seven laps.
Though the title was won at the end of that opening circuit, the race for the podium was hugely entertaining behind, with the Belgians hoping to salvage what has been a below par weekend for them.
How it happened
It was the first time this year we have seen van der Poel in prime starting position on the grid and he attacked from the gun, making the opening lap a frantic affair as riders scrabbled to stay with the defending champion as he instantly opened a gap.
As the lap developed the Dutchman was trailed by a string of four Belgians, their blue jerseys increasingly muddied in the horrendous conditions, rain having changed the nature of the course with each of the races through the weekend. Initially only Toon Aerts was able to follow van der Poel, but even he dropped back, trailing his rival as they closed the first lap.
On the second lap the Belgians came together, Aerts leading a group including Eli Iserbyt and Michael Vanthourenhout. Riding his first elite world championships, Tom Pidcock worked with former world champion Wout van Aert to move through the field, eventually joining the chanting group, though the Belgian was initially unable to join his compatriots.
Though Aerts briefly slipped back, on the thread lap Pidcock was surrounded by five Belgians, and as that lap neared its close saw an opportunity to make a move, attacking hard.
He began the fourth lap one minute behind the leader, but with only Eli Iserbyt for company, though as the chasing duo tackled one of the many bridges on the course, the Belgian popped leaving the Yorkshireman racing alone.
Behind, van Aert was gaining strength as the race went on. The Belgian began his season late after recovering from injuries sustained in a Tour de France crash last July, and was bringing his compatriots back towards the British rider’s wheel.
In a fascinating race, which continually changed, with his compatriots within touching distance of Pidcock van Aert dropped back. His sudden absence seemed to remove the impetus from the chase, and the Yorkshireman maintained a slim advantage.
At the front van der Poel was steadily increasing his lead, and the British rider crossed the line at the end of lap four with a deficit of 1.12, Aerts only three seconds back. Pidcock sensed the danger though, attacking again, extending the advantage on the Belgian.
However, his lead was never truly secure, and for the next two laps it fluctuated between five and 20 seconds. Inside the closing two laps Aerts and van Aert came back together, and seemed likely to make the catch, but the Yorkshireman dug deep into the Swiss mud, crossing the line for the penultimate time with a slim advantage of just seven seconds on Aerts, after van Aert once again slipped back.
On a nail biting closing circuit Pidcock appeared to gain in strength, finally dropping Aerts and closing the gap to the race leader.
Van der Poel has been imperious this year, of his 25 race starts he has won 24, finishing third at Hotondcross in mid-December. This spring the Dutchman will switch to the road with his Alpecin-Fenix team, with a concerted bid for classics glory.
Pidcock’s silver medal was not Britain’s first of the day. Earlier Anna Kay finished an excellent third in the Under 23 women’s race, with Frenchwoman Marion Norbert Riberolle taking the rainbow jersey.
UCI 2020 Cyclocross World Championships – Dubendorf, Switzerland
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) 1.08.52
2. Tom Pidcock (Gbr) at 1.20
3. Toon Aerts (Bel) at 1.45
4. Wout van Aert (Bel) at 2.04
5. Laurence Sweek (Bel) 2.32
6. Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) at 3.12
7. Corne van Kessel (Ned) at 3.52
8. Tim Merlier (Bel) at 4.32
9. Quinten Hermans (Bel) at 4.48
10. Eli Iserbyt (Bel) at 5.11