Wout van Aert overcomes hat-trick of misfortunes to spectacularly win Dublin round of Cyclocross World Cup
Jumbo-Visma rider suffered a series of setbacks but bounced back to claim his first cyclocross win of the season
Wout van Aert demonstrated his enduring cyclocross class to overcome a trio of mishaps to win a fascinatingly close-fought Dublin round of the Cyclocross World Cup.
The Jumbo-Visma rider first had to contend with a poor grid-start and he was then impended twice more, first by crashing into a barrier and then a mechanic's towel becoming lodged in his back wheel and rear mech.
Despite the bad luck, a mud-splattered Van Aert was able to take the race lead with just over a lap remaining, and crossed the line first in the Irish capital by a margin of 14 seconds.
"It was a really hard race for me, especially mentally," the 28-year-old said. "I had to fight, really fight my way into the race. In the start I was missing a little bit and was always a bit too far [back] in the position.
"At the time I [began to feel] better, I had this mechanical. It was a long race but in the end the course was so tough I could still make a difference."
The win represented the first of his season, having only made his return to the 'cross scene last week in Antwerp, a race won by his long-time rival Mathieu van der Poel who was absent in Dublin due to training in Castellón in Spain.
It was also the first time that the leading cyclocross competition had visited Dublin, and the technical parcours got the thumbs up from Van Aert. "It was a really exciting course that changed throughout the day," he said. "This was pure cyclocross and the fans came out as well."
He rated his win as "quite high" up in his list of 'cross wins, and quipped that "I've never lost a bicycle race in Ireland."
Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads), leader of the World Cup overall standings, finished second, and world champion Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) completed the podium; the Briton had looked good in the opening five laps but struggled in the sixth only to bounce back to ensure his fourth podium in seven races.
Raced on a muddy, frozen and in places snowy course, the drama kicked into life from the get-go, both Pidcock and Van Aert lagging behind their rivals as Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) made the strongest start.
Van Aert initially struggled to make his way through the bunch from a lowly position of 15th, but as the second lap began he was right in the mix of the large group congregated at the front.
Within a few minutes, the Belgian champion decided to attack to close the small advantage that leader Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Iserbyt were starting to build.
Iserbyt remained in the lead as they rode through the sand pit for the second time, but Van Aert was breathing down his neck, with the rainbow stripes of Pidcock and Vanthourenhout also just a few metres behind to complete the make-up of the leading four.
Drama ensued on the third lap when Van Aert came unstuck on a slippery stretch of mud that forced him into the barriers, his left shoulder hitting a wooden post. He unclipped and stepped off his bike, but even though he was able to remount within seconds, he found himself back down in 13th.
Crucially though for the Jumbo-Visma rider, he was still in the big leading group of 13 riders, with Pidcock and Sweeck exchanging the lead midway through the third lap. The latter eked out a small advantage towards the end of that lap, but as they started the fourth round, it was Pidcock in front.
The Yorkshireman upped the ante as soon as he was in the lead, and before long the man who was immediately behind him was Van Aert. Another five riders were within touching distance, too.
As a few riders opted for bike changes, more problems occurred for Van Aert when a mechanic's towel was caught up in the Belgian's back wheel and rear mech, prompting the three-time world champion to run back through the course to seek a new bike. When he restarted, he did so in 13th position yet again.
Up ahead, Pidcock briefly ceded the lead to Vanthourenhout, but within a minute the Briton had recovered top spot. Spectacularly, Van Aert powered through the sand pit and was back amongst the leading bunch of riders.
The sixth lap began with the first seven riding alongside each other, and Pidcock dropped back to sixth position, allowing Sweeck to hold the race lead. Up and over the barriers for the penultimate time, Pidcock was seen drifting further back; Van Aert, however, was up to second, despite his hat-trick of bad luck.
Into the sand pit for the second last time, Van Aert moved past Isebryt and he powered away on the following climb, the Belgian moving clear rapidly. As the bell rung for the final lap, he had a lead of 10 seconds to Sweeck.
Van Aert extended his lead in the final lap with Sweeck consolidating his second place, but in another demonstration of the topsy-turvy nature of the race, Pidcock had recovered his energies to mount a late comeback to finish third.
The Yorkshireman was joined in the top-10 by a fellow Briton, with Cameron Mason occupying 10th place, only the second time 22-year-old has finished in the top-10 in an elite World Cup race.
There remains five rounds left of the World Cup, with Sweeck extending his advantage as series leader to 17 points from Iserbyt.
Result: Cyclocross World Cup round nine, Dublin
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, in 59-36
2. Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Crelan-Fristads, at 14s
3. Tom Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 17s
4. Lars van der Haar (Ned) Baloise Trek Lions, at 19s
5. Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal, at 22s
6. Jens Adams (Bel), at 33s
7. Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal, at 35s
8. Pim Ronhaar (Ned) Baloise Trek Lions, at 37s
9. Corné van Kessel (Ned) Tormas Cyclo Cross Team, at 46s
10. Cameron Mason (GBr) Trinity Racing Cross, at 58s
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Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
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