Mud was all the rage across the CX world this Armistice Day Weekend, as reigning world champion Wout Van Aert held off rival Mathieu van der Poel for a victory on a sloppy circuit in Niel, a day after van der Poel won his fourth race in succession at Hamme-Zogge. Van Aert accelerated with three laps remaining to form a mini-peloton with van der Poel, two-time world champion Lars van der Haar, Philip Walsleben, Wietse Bosmans, veteran Niels Albert, and up-and-coming Yannick Peeters. Albert, a six-time winner in Niels, continued his quiet season as he eventually gave way to the younger set, and van der Haar and Walsleben were the next to go, failing to match an acceleration by van der Poel on the penultimate lap. Only Van Aert could follow, and he took advantage of a slip on the final lap to get a small gap over the more decorated but often unlucky Dutch star.
Wait, what? Oh, sorry. I was pre-writing a race recap. For 2018.
So yeah... holy crap. What Van Aert did earlier today, nearly matching Sven Nys pedalstroke-for-pedalstroke in the Jaarmarktcross outside Antwerp, was pretty astounding. OK, to talk myself down, I could say that it was day 2 of a doubleheader, that the course wasn't terrible, and that sometimes you can go a long way on just adrenaline. But is any of that true? For starters, Nys won, which is always a way of paying compliments to a course. After losing to Albert in the Hamme-Zogge Bollekescross a day earlier when Nys said the pace was 2km per hour too fast for his liking, it was the actual world champion/superlegend who put the hammer down on everyone else... except the teenager. Yes, this is partly the Sven Effect, where somehow a guy 50% older than his rivals is better on the second of two impossibly hard days. But Van Aert raced on Sunday too, edged by van der Poel in Bollekescrosse.
Speaking of van der Poel, his dad apparently held him out of Niel because the race was "to tough" for a kid of his age. Probably had to do his chores too. No racing with the elite men's field until your room is clean! But Van Aert is all of three months older.
Anyway, back to the action. It was muddy in Hamme-Zogge...
How muddy was it?
It was so muddy... so muddy... well, this:
As to the action, Niels Albert did indeed win, outpacing the star-studded field, with Nys 13" down and Walsleben 36" back to complete the podium. Sanne Cant won on the women's side, while yes, van der Poel did edge Van Aert in the U23 event, a sign of things to come for the older U23s who are already being shoved aside. Albert's win moved him up to second on the Superprestige standings, three points back of Nys, as both riders vaulted past a slightly ailing Belgian Champion in Vantornout (stomach bug or something). Monday's results consisted of Nys first, then Van Aert at 21" and Rob Peeters 1.14 back. Niel isn't part of a series, so anything besides victory is more or less forgotten.
What does it really mean to see such a young kid doing so well? A lot, or nothing. Twenty-year-old Niels Albert scored a pair of GvA Trofee wins back in 2006, en route to a world championship two years later. Nys didn't join the elites til age 22, but immediately began winning Superprestige events and rounding quickly into the Cannibal of Cross. Not that anyone should have to be compared to him, but early success is always a decent sign.
Another model is Lars Boom, who was a top competitor and Dutch champion at 21, then a world champion at 22. Or Zdenek Stybar, winning elite races in his age-22 season and world champion at 24. Both riders can now be found almost exclusively on the road, succeeding and making far more money as solid roadies than they would as CX stars. I know little about the road potential of guys like van der Poel and Van Aert, but if it's not as overwhelmingly positive as their CX chops, perhaps they will blossom into the riders hypothetically described above in 2018. Van Aert, who recently announced his switch from Fidea to a team sponsored by Rode Duivel Timmy SImons known as the Vastgoedservice team. Van Aert mapped out his route to the Elite ranks, expected after 2017, so he seems like he's got both feet still in the mud. Good news for the sport... which also might become more rewarding as time goes on. We Americans, we might not know much or ride very well, but when we like something we can drag some bags of sponsor money overseas.
Bollekescross: Thru Patrick Verhoest's Lens!
I didn't get to watch Sunday, with our own top event happening down the street (don't ask), but our man Patrick was there!
I love these panoramas. Also the course looks so civil from a distance,except maybe the flying bridges. Who knew what madness lurked within?!
The KVT Club!
Patrick got a lift from the Klaas Vantornout Supporters Club, a hearty lot with much to cheer this season, if not this weekend.
And their hero...
Have a Nys Day
Oh, there were other heroes on hand.
World Champions need a nice ride. Sven is far removed from the days of the camper van. Too bad that nice jersey had to go and get all dirty...
Oh well. That was only the beginning of the story. You want mud?
At least that's mud. I'm not even sure what to call this:
As mentioned above, van der Poel won the U23 event.
Alone in the picture. Again.
Patrick had a nice spot near the bog. Here's Albert making his move:
Ah hell, let's not pretend this is a race recap. Let's call this what it really is.
Gratuitous Mud Shots
It was this kind of day for Lars van der Haar:
More mudders: KVT hanging tough with Sven
Klaas apparently doesn't like the flavor...
In the end, everyone cleaned up real nice.
All Photos by Patrick Verhoest