Michael Vanthourenhout takes a flawless win in the 10th round of Cyclocross World Cup proving his snow-prowess
Pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel struggled and finished in eighth place, while Eli Iserbyt was stretchered off clutching his knee
Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) rode a flawless race to win a treacherous 10th round of the Cyclocross World Cup in the snow of Val di Sole.
Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Decuininck) held on for a well-earned second place, while Kevin Kuhn (Team Tormans) overcame Laurens Sweeck (Crelan - Fristads) in a hard-fought battle for third.
Elsewhere, pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin–Deceuninck) struggled by his lofty standards and finished in eighth place, while Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) crashed out of the race and was stretchered off the course clutching his left knee.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) were both absent from the race due to training camps with their respective teams.
The race will form part of Cyclocross's bid to join the winter Olympics and the riders looked resplendent racing over the snow of the Italian Alps.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The 10th round of the Cyclocross World Cup saw the riders swap the freezing mud of Dublin for the slippery snow of Val di Sole, a valley in northern Italy famous for skiing and Giro d'Italia visits.
The race forms part of Cyclocross's bid to join the winter Olympics, hence the race around Val di Sole's 'winter wonderland'.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin–Deceuninck) came into the race as the hot favourite thanks to the absence of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) who were both on training camps with their respective teams.
Van Aert would certainly have eyed this race, particularly after taking the win last week in Dublin and first edition of the Val di Sole race last year.
Conditions were bound to be treacherous as the overnight rain had made the snow icy. Indeed, just minutes earlier in the women's race series leader Fem van Empel was stretchered off the course after falling heavily.
But all the riders managed to stay upright as they charged into the first corner, and it was Swiss champion Kevin Kuhn (Team Tormans) who took an early lead, with Mathieu van der Poel back in 8th.
Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Decuininck), Michael Vanthourenhout and Eli Iserbyt (both Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) soon caught Kuhn to form a leading quartet.
Conditions were treacherous as the riders fought for traction, dabbing their legs down on most corners to avoid falling.
At the end of the second lap, Kevin Kuhn led the trio of Belgian riders over the line- the quartet leading van der Poel by 20 seconds.
However it was Michael Vanthourenhout who took the lead early in the third lap, displaying masterful bike handling skill and remarkable focus as he charged into every snowy bank.
Only Niels Vandeputte could match Vanthourenhout's attack, and at the start of lap 4 the two men led by 20 seconds, with van der Poel 40 seconds back unable to improve on 8th place.
Back in the pack, Corne Van Kessel (Team Tormans) fell heavily at the base of the hill, as the riders' bikes twitched and jerked on the slushy snow and ice.
Michael Vanthourenhout's flawless race continued into lap five where he distanced second-placed Vandeputte who was having problems with his rear wheel and needed a bike change.
Fifth-placed Eli Iserbyt crashed out of the race clutching his left knee and was stretchered off, leaving Kevin Kuhn and Laurens Sweeck (Crelan - Fristads) to battle it out for third.
Now leading by 40 seconds, Michael Vanthourenhout's lap times continued to fall as he stamped his authority over the snow cross.
Over the course of lap six, Sweeck edged in front of Kuhn in the battle for third, as both men closed in on second-placed Vandeputte who was seven seconds ahead.
Michael Vanthourenhout took the bell with over a minute's lead and it was the Belgian's race to lose. Vandeputte looked set to take a career best second, while Kevin Kuhn overcame Laurens Sweeck in the final lap to move into third.
Thankfully, Michael Vanthourenhout stayed upright all the way to the line and raised his arms in celebration. Vandeputte held on for a career best second, and Kevin Kuhn battled home for third.
RESULT: CYCLOCROSS WORLD CUP ROUND TEN, VAL DI SOLE
1. Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal, in 57.59
2. Niels Vandeputte (Bel) Alpecin-Decuininck, at 0.39s
3. Kevin Kuhn (Swi) Team Tormans, at 0.42
4. Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Crelan - Fristads, at 0.44
5. Timon Rugg (Swi) Cross Team Legendre, at 1.20
6. Vincent Baesteans (Bel), at 2.37
7. Pim Ronhaar (Ned) Baloise Trek Lions, 2.51
8. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 3.14
9. Thijs Aerts (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions, at 3.19
10. Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Team Tormans, same time
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