Mathieu van der Poel wins Antwerp Cyclocross World Cup as Wout van Aert makes impressive return

Ineos Grenadiers' Tom Pidcock was never in contention for the win after a disappointing start

Van der Poel wins in Antwerp
(Image credit: Getty)

Mathieu van der Poel comfortably won the Cyclocross World Cup round in Antwerp on Sunday to take the bragging rights amongst his great cyclocross rivals Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock.

In the trio's first head-to-head of the season, Van der Poel took his second successive   World Cup victory after returning to the scene last week in Hulst.

Jumbo Visma's Van Aert, racing cyclocross for the first time this season, had a strong start but was unable to bring Van der Poel back once the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider took the lead at the beginning of the second lap.

After seven laps, Van der Poel was the victor by 23 seconds, with Van Aert completing an impressive return to 'cross action to finish second. Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) rounded off the podium.

Despite a courageous ride to overcome a disappointing beginning that left him with a mountain to climb, Pidcock will be disappointed with his eighth place. A day earlier, at Superprestige Boom, world champion Pidcock had won by 10 seconds from Lars van der Haar with Van der Poel crashing and finishing down in 13th.

Antwerp, however, saw a reversal of fortunes, with Van der Poel looking imperious across the sand and grass, bunny-hopping expertly and running fast when required. His form, in what was just his third outing of the season, already looks ominous for the ensuing two months.

Asked if he made a mistake during his win, Van der Poel laughed: "Not that I can recall so that's a good thing. I felt good, I was able to get a good gap, maintain it and I am pretty happy with today."

Van Aert described his podium as "unexpected", adding: "When Mathieu was attacking he was way too fast, so I understood that I should focus on second place.

"I feel way better than I expected to before [the race]. My pace during the race was quite steady which was a good thing and from this we will try build up, [and] get the accelerations in. It's a super starting point for me."

Van der Poel, however, knows that he has to continue to make improvements when he returns from a two-week training camp in Spain. "I need to be better in the future as Wout will be getting better," the four-time world champion said. "There will be a few really nice races in the busy [Christmas] period."

In his season debut, the Belgian champion Van Aert had a terrific opening, racing to the very front from the grid start with Van der Poel a few places back.

The same could not be said for Pidcock, however, who endured a nightmare opening lap and occupied 29th position after just a few minutes of racing. The Briton did begin to work his way through the bunch but it happened slower than he would have liked.

Up ahead, Lars van der Haar temporarily took the lead from Van Aert while Van der Poel closed in on the duo to ensure that the trio finished the first lap together.

As soon as they began the second lap of the technical course, however, Van der Poel started to pull away as he has done so many times before in the past decade. Worries about a potential knee injury as a result of a crash the day before seemed misplaced as he built a sizeable lead that stretched to 10 seconds at the end of lap two. "I was a bit sore but it didn't bother me too much during the race," Van der Poel said of his knee. 

Behind, Van Aert and Vanthourenhout had a small advantage over Van der Haar, while Pidcock had a deficit of 44 seconds back in 15th place.

On the long sand section of the third lap, Van Aert sprinted away from Vanthourenhout and appeared to be closing a bit of Van der Poel's lead, but the Alpecin-Decuninck rider had in fact extended his advantage by a further three seconds.

The following lap saw Van Aert increase his advantage to Vanthourenhout to six seconds, but crucially Van der Poel had also eked out more time over Van Aert, the distance between the two cyclocross greats 24 seconds in the favour of the Dutchman.

Just over a minute back was Pidcock who continued to steadily climb his way through the pack and was sitting in seventh place, but the Yorkshireman was fighting for as high a place as possible as opposed to the race win.

With two laps to go, the time gap between Van der Poel and Van Aert remained steady at around 27 seconds, but Vanthourenhout was fighting to keep hold of third place with series leader Laurens Sweeck just three seconds back from him.

Confident in victory, Van der Poel was able to ease off the pedals a little in the final two laps and crossed the line with a 23 second advantage to Van Aert. Michael Vanthourenhout was 11 seconds further back.

The World Cup circuit moves to Dublin, Ireland, next week with Sweeck remaining at the top of the overall standings. He has a six point lead over Eli Iserbyt with six rounds to go. 

Result: Cyclocross World Cup Antwerp 2022

1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Deceuninck in 59-04
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at 23s
3. Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal, at 34s
4. Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Crelan-Fristads, at 45s
5. Lars van der Haar (Ned) Baloise Trek Lions, at 54s
6. Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal, at 1-05
7. Jens Adams (Bel), at 1-09
8. Tom Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-14
9. Niels Vandeputte (Bel) Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 1-45
10. Joran Wyseure (Bel) Crelan-Fristads, at 2-05.

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