World Champion Mathieu van der Poel survived a chain mishap and a poor start to win his first major cyclocross event of the season in Overijse, taking the Druivencross event by a comfortable margin over Kevin Pauwels and Tom Meeusen. Pointing to his knee as he crossed the line, in the style of Belgian classics hero Johan Museeuw, van der Poel celebrated exuberantly, signaling his return to form from an injury to that knee earlier this fall. As recently as last week van der Poel, who only returned in late November, said he was still searching for his form, but today, where he took the lead, lost it after the chain incident, then rejoined the front, attacked, and won with ease, showed that his form had finally arrived.
Van der Poel's victory relaunched his rainbow jersey defense, which he began last winter with three quick post-worlds victories, but in the meat of the CX season -- November thru January -- the World Champion had not been heard from, as he recovered from a crash and ramped up his form. That left the stage to his main rival, fellow 21-year-old Wout Van Aert, who had been hoovering up wins since late summer, Van Aert is sitting on eleven victories from Cross Vegas to yesterday's GP Essen, and is by any measure the rider of the year.
But a fit van der Poel is a handful for anyone, even Van Aert, and the arrival of his fitness means only one thing... we are in for a fantastic duel between the two, and anyone else who can sneak into the foreground, throughout the Christmas Week and new year. Probably all the way to the world championships, in Heusden-Zolder, in late January.
(*Actually van der Poel doesn't turn 21 for another five weeks.)
It's the Mathieu van der Poel show! Live from Overijse, Belgium.
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