Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) won the men's and women's Dendermonde World Cup events on Boxing Day.
Van Aert took the win from Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), the latter making his cyclocross return following a knee injury which saw him delay his 2021/2022 season start.
Third place went to Toon Aerts (Baloise Trek Lions), who confidently took the lead early on, before dropping behind the competitive pair, continuing his pace to deny a podium place to the chasers, including Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers).
In the women's race, Brand successfully held off Clara Honsinger (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld), the US rider finishing just four seconds behind the World Champion with Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) rounding off the podium.
Zoe Bäckstedt won the junior women's race, extending her lead in the overall standings, having won all three of the rounds so far - with just two to go. Cameron Mason won the men's Under 23 race, with the junior men's round won by David Haverdings.
The course, in Belgium, had seen serveral added features compared to the 2020 edition, with a sandy descent testing riders as well as steep rollers which many chose to run. Conditions meant that heavy mud accumilated, making bike changes pivotal to the standings. Covid-19 regulations meant the course was devoid of spectators, which no doubt had an effect on some rider's motivation.
Dendermonde World Cup: men's race
This Boxing day race was a hotly anticipated event, with Van der Poel, Van Aert and Pidcock making their first group showing of the season, gaining themselves the collective title 'the big three'.
As the race began, Aerts made his move early, whilst Van der Poel put in a calculated surge to move himself up the placings, having been gridden behind his key rivals.
Van der Poel was second in line behind Aerts, forgoing a bike change to draw out a gap of seven seconds over Van Aert. However, eventually Van Aert was able to close the gap, the pair sitting side by side or one after the other in a lap long dual.
The duo looked content to let Aerts lead for some time, even slowing to allow his margin to grow. However, after two laps they eventually closed the gap to create a trio at the head of the race.
With two thirds of the race complete, Aerts eventually let the elastic snap between himself and the Van Aert/Van der Poel battle, Van Aert eventually wearing down the World Champion to put himself out front.
Come the bell lap, Van Aert had increased his leading margin to a full 41 seconds over Van der Poel, the Belgiun rider gaining time with his speed on the sections that were best run, as well as choosing the faster position to take a bike change.
By the finish line, Van der Poel was 49 seconds back, Aerts having continued to ride confidently ahead of the chasers to take third.
Following this twelth World Cup round, Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) - who was ninth today - leads, ahead of Michael Vanthourenhout and Aerts.
Dendermonde World Cup: women's race
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) placed herself into the lead in the opening metres, with
Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen) also powering off the line in a contined persuit of the overall standings. Meanwhile, eventual winner Brand chose to bide her time, sitting in 10th place.
Betsema was pivotal in pushing the pace, however, as the second lap drew to a close she was flanked by eight other riders, Brand and Sanne Cant (IKO-Crelan) included.
It was the muddy section half way through the lap where Brand made her move, pulling out a lead, which, by the penultimate lap she had drawn out to nine seconds. In second was Betsema, with Pieterse third and a string of chasers riding in their wake.
However, it was in these closing laps that US contender Honsinger began to make herself known - passing both third place Pieterse and Betsema, to take up a position in sight of Brand - a familar scenrio, the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld rider having taken the second step next to Brand on the same course in 2020.
At the bell, Honsinger was still 17 seconds behind Brand. However, World Champion Brand's final lap bike change cost her some of her margin, and when the leader finally crossed the line, only four seconds seperated the pair.
Betsema maintained her pace to complete the podium, whilst Vos gained herself a handfull of extra points by powering past Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) to take fourth.
With three roiunds of the World Cup left, Brand leads the standings, with Betsema second and Pieterse third.
Dendermonde World Cup: men's race results
1 Wout Van Aert (Bel) in 1-3-48
2 Mathieu Van der Peol (Ned) at 49s
3 Toon Aerts (Bel) at 1-18
4 Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) at 1-52
5 Quinten Hermans (Bel) at 2-09
6 Corné Van Kessel (Ned) at 2-41
7 Laurens Sweeck (Bel) at 2-52
8 Tom Pidcock (GBr) at 2-59
9 Eli Iserbyt (Bel) at 3-13
10 Lars Van der Haar (Ned) at 3.24
Dendermonde World Cup: women's race results
1 Lucinda Brand (Ned) in 47-38
2 Clara Honsinger (USA) at 4s
3 Denise Betsema (Ned) at 36s
4 Marianne Vos (Ned) at 41s
5 Shirin van Anrooij (Ned) at 41s
6 Puck Pieterse (Ned) at 46s
7 Sanne Cant (Bel) at 52s
8 Kata Blanka Vas (Hun) at 1-10
9 Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Ned) at 1-15
10 Mannon Bakker (Ned) IKO-Creland at 1-18
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Cycling Weekly's Digital Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.
When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.
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