Wout Van Aert is really having a fantastic week. After winning in the Loenhout mud, he came to Sven Nys' hometown in hope of a win. And win he did, again in dominant fashion, with no one able to follow him.
The race began with a bang, as the BPost lights went green and the riders went away. As he so often is, Lars Van der Haar was the rider first around the first corner. Quickly, a group of five was made, with Pauwels, Van Aert, Van der Haar, Meeusen and Peeters. Peeters was slowly dropping back though, but who was that behind him? Behind him was Sven Nys, who, in his home race, was slowly but inexorably reeling in the group of - now - four.
He had not quite caught them when Van Aert sprinted uphill to retrieve the fifteen bonus seconds, to try and reach an unassailable lead of five minutes and thirty seconds in the BPost Bank Trofee before the final race, the Krawatencross in Lille. He successfully took them, with Van der Haar taking ten, and Meeusen five.
Soon after, Nys caught up to the group, leaving the five in front of a group containing Julien Taramarcaz, Rob Peeters, and fellow under-23 Gianni Vermeersch. Vermeersch saw his chance to attack the group, and did, leaving himself in no-man's land.
On lap three, Belgian champion Sven Nys excited the crowd, attacking off the front twice, but he was ultimately unable to get a gap, so settled back into the group. This led to Van der Haar also having an unsuccessful attack.
Van Aert and Van der Haar were taking turns to pull the leading group along, with Pauwels sitting in behind. This looked smart from Pauwels, letting the young riders do the work, but perhaps he was unable to, as on the next lap, Van Aert launched an attack on the tricky off-camber, where the Sunweb rider was floundering. Van Aert did, though, drag along one other rider, Telenet's Tom Meeusen. Meeusen barely lasted a lap, however, as he had a bad puncture in his rear tyre.
This left Van Aert out on his own, sixteen seconds ahead of Van der Haar, who'd had enough of sticking around with Pauwels and Nys, and decided to launch his own chase. This, however would prove futile, as by the end of the next lap, his deficit had doubled, and the Pauwels group was fifty-one seconds down by two to go. Interestingly, Pauwels' Sunweb team-mate Vermeersch was catching up to them, only a few seconds behind.
Van Aert was in his rhythm now, and even Nys at his peak would have trouble catching him. Nys was very much not at his peak today, but responded to Pauwels' acceleration on the penultimate lap as his team-mate Vermeersch finally caught up. Up front, Van Aert continued to extend his lead, he had forty-seven seconds on Van der Haar, and a whole minute and sixteen on the Sunwebs and Nys. Pauwels, as if shocked into action by the big gap, then put in a blistering attack, gapping Nys and truly pulverising Vermeersch, putting him a long way back almost immediately.
The final lap continued apace, with Van Aert losing some advantage, but only one second to Van der Haar. The young Belgian crossed the line, triumphant, in a time of one hour, six minutes, and ten seconds after eight laps. Van der Haar came in forty-five seconds later. Pauwels came third, after a fast last lap, fifty-six seconds down.
Wout Van Aert, at twenty years of age, is the youngest ever winner of the BPost Bank Trofee, in whatever guise. This is a very dominant victory, winning five of the seven races so far! What a neo-season from the Vastgoedservice rider, he truly deserved each victory. When interviewed, he said "I know everyone will consider me as top favourite for the championships, I hope to do well."
Another talking point is the fantastic ride from 22-year-old Gianni Vermeersch, for his second fourth place of the week. The Sunweb rider must rise to the occasion, to avoid becoming the forgotten under-23.
Sven Nys seems to be coming back after the strife that hit him in December. However, he still had his fair share of bad luck, a flat on the last lap costing him fourth. "I want to fight against the domination of Van Aert," he says. "There is one rider who is above the rest, and everybody who denies that, is either blind or knows nothing about cyclo-cross. Wout is currently two minutes faster than everybody else. But you should never give up."
Finally, Klaas Vantornout seems to be starting to recover from his viral infection, finishing seventh, two minutes and seventeen seconds behind.
The most important thing we all have to take from this weekend was said by the Sporza commentators: At the minute, Wout Van Aert is simply the best crosser.
BPost Bank Trofee Classification: