Finally. After all that waiting, after dry course after dry course, we had proper mud today. More than proper mud. The Loenhout course was a brown lake from start to finish, suiting powerful riders. Van Aert always looked the strongest rider in the muddy sections and pulled away to take victory.
The Vastgoedservice team made their intentions clear right from the start, with Van Aert and Rob Peeters breaking away right from the start. They were soon joined by 19-year-old Mathieu Van der Poel. When Van der Poel joined, the pace went up, and Van der Poel attacked. While this acceleration didn't force a selection, Van Aert's, at the beginning of lap 2, did. This left Van Aert and Van der Poel ahead of a large group. This group comprised of Meeusen, Nys, Walsleben, Joeri Adams, Jan Denuwealaere and a few other BKCP and Sunweb riders, such as Gianni Vermeersch and Vincent Bastaens.
Because of the sheer amount of mud and water, the laps took 9 minutes, and by the end of the second lap, Van der Poel and van Aert were well clear.The race would have only seven, long, hard laps.
Up front, Van Aert was doing most of the work. In fact he was doing almost all of it, and Van der Poel was stuck to his wheel. He took 15 seconds at the checkpoint. While it looked like the Dutchman was tiring, he seemed to follow Van Aert without too much difficulty. However, he would find himself out on his own soon, after Van Aert crashed and lost a few seconds. This was not detrimental to his race though, as he soon caught up.
Behind, Sven Nys was looking better than he had since the middle of November! He didn't seem to be having too much trouble sticking with the group, and even a flat didn't seem to put him too far back. However, the group he was in was going much slower than the leaders. They lost time at almost half a minute a lap, and by halfway it became clear that one of Van Aert or Van der Poel would win.
With just over one lap to go, Van der Poel led into a tricky corner, and made his fatal mistake. He went down, lost his balance, and Van Aert was gone. He motored away, was 8 seconds ahead only one minute later, and 23 by the end of the lap. He powered onto the laatste ronde and never looked like losing from the moment he took the lead.
Van Aert crossed the line 37 seconds ahead of Van der Poel, to win his fifth elite series race of the season - and he's only ridden seven! Equally impressive, it is his fourth BPost Bank Trofee win out of six. He leads the series by a huge 4 minutes, 45 seconds from Sven Nys with just two races to go. "Mathieu played it smartly and let me do the work on the road," he says. "I thought that was going to cost me the victory, but then he made a mistake. I should have the BPost Bank Trofee in the bag now."
Behind, Meeusen saw his chance at another podium, and jumped away from the group. He came in third, 2 minutes and 1 second behind. Fourth was another under-23, Sunweb's Gianni Vermeersch, and fifth went to former Essen winner (and Nys' very best friend) Jan Denuwelare, who also rides for Vastgoedservice. Kevin Pauwels, the race favourite, was sixth.
Another important thing to take from the race is who came eighth. Sven Nys would not ordinarily be happy with eighth place, but you can bet he will be today. Nys, for the first time since November, looked able to stay with the majority of the riders. "At one point I felt really good, but the flat cost me some energy. I had much more power than in Diegem, that race is too fast for me. I was still a bit afraid to dig deep, but I hope to be on the podium in Baal," said the Belgian champion when interviewed.
- Wout Van Aert
- Mathieu Van der Poel
- Tom Meeusen
- Gianni Vermeersch
- Jan Denuwelaere
- Kevin Pauwels
- Tim Merlier
- Sven Nys
- Rob Peeters
- Vincent Bastaens
Katerina Nash won the unfortunately untelevised women's race, after a long struggle with Marianne Vos in the thick mud. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot pulled out of the race due to the conditions, and Sanne Cant had a tough time in the mud, crashing and finishing fifth.
The next stop for the BPost Bank Trofee is in Baal on Thursday, where Sven Nys will be targeting his home race.