Tom Pidcock crashes out as Mathieu van der Poel wins on cyclocross return

World champion buckles wheel on final lap of Hulst World Cup whilst chasing winner Van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel conquers Hulst to take first cyclocross win of 2022
Mathieu van der Poel conquers Hulst to take first cyclocross win of 2022
(Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) put on a dominant display in Hulst to win the World Cup on Sunday, winning his first cyclocross race in almost two years at his first event of the season.

World champion Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) looked set to take second for much of the race, but a heavy crash in the final lap took the Brit out of the race with a broken back wheel. 

After a steady start to the seven-lap race where a few technical errors slowed the returning Van der Poel, he soon found his pace and took the race lead in the fourth lap, never to be caught again. 

"It feels pretty good," Van der Poel said at the finish. "It's been a long while since I've won a cyclocross race, last year was not a good season. I can't even call it a season because I did one and a half cyclocross races due to the back issue. Like I said I felt pretty good, I had a good preparation coming towards Hulst and I'm really happy with the shape, technically I made a lot of mistakes but I think that's normal."

"I'm happy to be back but there's still some work to do to be at my top level. But I can only be really happy with today."

HOW IT HAPPENED

 

It was Dutch champion Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions) who animated the start of the race, attacking from the line to take an early lead in the Hulst mud. However, despite Van der Haar's motivation, all eyes were on the rainbow jersey Tom Pidcock and the threatening presence of Mathieu van der Poel, starting his first cyclocross race of the season.

Winner of the X2O Trofee in Kortrijk on Saturday, Pidcock was perhaps the favoured rider over the unknown form of Van der Poel, but both started strong behind Van der Haar, holding onto their top-10 spots and quickly moving into the top-5.

Going past the pits for the first time, Van der Poel accelerated to come past Van der Haar and Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and take the lead of the race in the first ten minutes of racing. However, his acceleration saw him make a small mistake and come off on an off-camber section, though he conceded hardly anything and was quickly back in third position. 

Entering the second lap, a group of six had emerged in the front, containing Pidcock, Van der Haar, Iserbyt, Van der Poel, Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) and Michael Vantourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal). Another small mistake cost Van der Poel a few more positions as he slipped down to seventh, perhaps still finding his rhythm in his first cyclocross race in eleven months. 

Meanwhile, at the front of the race, it was World Champion Tom Pidcock who pressed on, taking with him Sweeck as the pair drew out a few seconds on their competitors. After regaining some composure, Van der Poel found his way back to third and closing in on the leaders, prompting Pidcock to accelerate once again at the head of the race. 

Van der Poel’s efforts had dragged himself, Iserbyt and Van der Haar back to Sweeck’s wheel, who he soon overtook before also catching Pidcock to grab the race lead at the halfway point of the race. 

After a slow start to the race, Van der Poel was in full flight by the fifth lap, gaining ten seconds on a chasing Pidcock who was putting down his fastest lap times but still not making up any ground on the leader. 

Taking the bell, the result looked certain with Van der Poel clearly ahead and Pidcock in second, but it was disaster for the world champion who crashed heavily in the final lap, buckling his back wheel and unable to remount his bike. Shelling time and positions, the rainbow jersey exited the course early and did not finish the race after riding strongly all day.

With no one to chase, Van der Poel took an unchallenged victory ahead of Laurens Sweeck and Eli Iserbyt. Sweeck's second earned him enough points to overtake Iserbyt in the overall, and will wear the leader's jersey at the next round in Antwerp next week.

Van der Poel will also continue his cyclocross campaign in Antwerp as he builds towards the World Championships in February. 

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Writer

Matilda is a freelance journalist who can usually be found writing or podcasting about women's professional cycling. When not at a road race, her favourite place to be is trackside at a mountain bike World Cup.