We have a new world champion. Well, we have two, but there's only one that we care about, and it's Wout Van Aert. He dominated the opening part of the season, until the seemingly stronger Van der Poel took over, but today he took the sport's biggest prize.
Belgium took the initiative from the start, with Tim Merlier getting the holeshot,m trade team mate Van Aert in tow. Van der Poel had a poorer start and fell to the lower reaches of the top ten for the majority of the first lap. However, towards the end he turned on the power and crossed the line with a one second advantage over Van Aert and compatriot Van der Haar. Everyone else had fallen back. He was soon recaptured, however, and Van Aert went to the front again. On the important hills, he seemed just as strong as Van der Poel, and the lap times fell as he waited for his Belgian team mates to catch up with the leading trio. That they did, and by lap four, three became six as they were joined by Nys, Pauwels and Sweeck.
As this happened, Van Aert swung off the front, and the pace was set by Van der Haar until the race's big drama. As the lead group approached one of the race's biggest features, a muddy climb in the second third of the lap, Van der Poel seemed to stall, unclipping...and putting his foot right through Van Aert's wheel.
(YORICK JANSENS/AFP/Getty Images)
This cost both of them valuable time, falling to ninth and tenth positions, thirty seconds behind, and Van der Haar saw his opportunity, attacking the front group as Van der Poel's foot was still being untangled. Once it was, Van Aert started chasing with a vengeance, as Van der Poel started falling back, fiddling with his shoe.
Up front, Van Aert was increasing his advantage, with Nys, Pauwels, and David van der Poel in chase. When Van Aert caught them, Pauwels went to the front, but lost time after a small crash, and Van Aert was solo in second place. He chased Van der Haar, the gap falling from sixteen seconds to eleven at the start of the penultimate lap, and the catch was made soon after, as Van Aert bypassed the pits, catching the Dutchman while he was changing bike.
Finally, Van der Poel had got his rhythm back, but he was too far back to prevent the two-man race. Van Aert stayed on the front, hoping to be able to gap Van der Haar on the difficult hills at the end of the lap. When those hills were reached, Van der Haar was in the lead, thanks to a rather magnificent display of bike handling, overtaking his rival around the outside on the incredibly difficult and slick descent. However, it was not to be for the Dutchman, as Van Aert's running skills proved superior in the wet sand, and though he could not ride all the way up the last hill, Van der Haar's gear choice left his standing still. Van Aert was away, and going down the final ramp, had time to celebrate. Kevin Pauwels rounded out the podium.
"It was crazy in the beginning," he said. "I felt I was the strongest but preferred to wait till the final, but then there was the incident with Mathieu, but I really have to thank him because it gave me my rhythm. It's crazy. It's a dream come true. I didn't expect this. Yesterday was a really bad day for Belgian cycling. I think it is beautiful to finish a world championships in Belgium with two world champions."
Van der Poel, who had leapfrogged to third place, blew up badly on the final lap, falling to fifth, one place behind Sven Nys, who kissed goodbye to his fans in his final world championships.
Van Aert's compatriot Eli Iserbyt also won his under-23 race, beating out the Czech Republic's Adam Toupalik, but not without a degree of luck. Toupalik, erroneously thinking himself the victor, started celebrating at the end of the penultimate lap, and only realised there was a lap to go when Iserbyt shot past him. He had to chase back onto Iserbyt's wheel, and the energy lost there may have cost him the race-deciding sprint.