The kids are (more than just) alright
When was the last time a U-23 rider won an Elite World Cup? I can't remember a time in recent history that it has happened. When Lars Boom and Niels Albert burst onto the Elite scene in 2008 and 2009, they took world cup victories (one for Albert, two for Boom) on their way to taking the World Championship. But, both Boom and Albert were 22 when they burst onto the scene, and they were in their first year racing Elites full time. Similarly, Lars van der Haar won three World Cup stops in his first Elite season last year at the age of 22. But, to do so at the age of 20 is an entirely different story.
That is exactly what Wout Van Aert did today when he stormed away on the second lap in the notoriously difficult dunes of Koksijde and kept prying open a larger and larger gap all the way to his eventual win. Equally notable was the way Mathieu van der Poel, who is only 19, kept pace for several laps before falling back to ride with Kevin Pauwels. Such a display this early in either rider's careers is extraordinary, especially since Koksijde is not like the relatively easier courses at Koppenbergcross and Gieten where Wout and Mathieu took victories in the elite ranks earlier this year. At Koksijde, you need power, skill, and pacing in a way
It's impossible to not notice the similarities between Van Aert and his manager Niels Albert, who won one of his world titles at Koksijde. Both showed prodigious skills in the sand at an early age and they even have very similar riding styles. But Van Aert could well overshadow his mentor, as hard as that is to believe, if he keeps up like this. Trust me, we will return to this in more depth later.
Sophie de Boer is the real deal
Early in the season, 24 year old Sophie de Boer upper her game by a level, winning at the GP Mario de Clerq in Ronse and then taking the prestigious Koppenbergcross a few weeks later. Since then, she's been back to some of the results we knew her from last year, settling in third to fifth in many races as Sanne Cant began to pick up steam. And while Cant picked up the win today, de Boer's third place finish - ahead of many a strong name including Katie Compton - on one of the most difficult courses of the year shows she is definitely on a different level this year and could very well be a contender for a podium spot at Worlds in three months if she keeps up like this.
Rachel Lloyd has skillz to pay the bills
If you scrolled through the women's results today you may have had a double take at the name Rachel Lloyd in 12th, a mere 3:25 down on Sanne Cant. If you aren't a close follower of cyclocross in the United States, you may likely have not heard of the Cal Giant - Specialized rider before. Unlike Van Aert, van der Poel, and de Boer, Lloyd is not young. On the contrary, she is 39, older than even Sven Nys. Lloyd had a career as a professional downhill mountain biker years ago and has been racing cross increasingly more over the past two years. Though she's not young any more, her skills are definitely helping her ratchet up big results, including second behind Katarina Nash at a UCI C1 race in Cincinnati three weeks ago. If she goes to worlds, could she crack the top fifteen? It's definitely possible, especially if it's muddy.
Wout Van Aert knows his history
Did you see the way Van Aert hopped off his bike and then immediately remounted on the finishing stretch? That little move is something Niels Albert may have taught him and has history stretching back to when the 1994 World Championships were held in Koksijde. Then, Paul Herygers celebrated his world title all the way down the finishing stretch, including a quick dismount/remount shortly before the line. Niels repeated when he won the World Cup at Koksijde last year, and now it was Van Aert's time. Go to the 19 minute mark here to see the history.