In the battle of the last two unbelievably young and awesome cyclocross men’s world champions, Mathieu van der Poel dealt his rainbow-clad Belgian rival Wout Van Aert a couple tough beatings this weekend. Saturday’s round of the UCI World Cup in Zeven, Germany, saw van der Poel come from behind on the super-aggressive Van Aert to win alone, while Sunday at Flandriencross in Hamme-Zogge the roles were reversed, with van der Poel taking off early, except he was able to stay away to the finish for a narrow six-second win.
Is this interesting? Get used to it. These guys are phenomenal and until they move on to road racing or take a break for some other reason, they will dominate the sport. Still, there were plenty of interesting takeaways from the weekend.
Sanne Cant shouldn’t be overshadowed by the men after her own double-victory weekend. The women’s field is far more competitive among the top five riders, with Cant a clear but not decisive points lead over Caroline Mani, Sophie de Boer, Katie Compton and Thalita de Jongh.
Saturday Cant fought Compton to the finish, taking a narrow win, and continuing a hot streak that began at the WaaslandCross on November 5. Cant slumped at KoppenbergCross, and would go on to lose to De Boer (barely) at Ruddervoorde, but the day after that defeat she won the Jaarmarkcross in Niel and has been undefeated ever since. Now 26, the Ekerenner is still searching for her first world title, and late January is a long ways off. But she has to rate an early favorite. Here’s the whole race from Zeven:
What’s the big headline from the weekend? A fight in the back of the peloton at Flandriencross. Well, a “fight” anyway. This definitely wouldn’t make the cut for “Bad Boys” or one of those awful American reality TV shows. But considering the time lost pushing and shoving, this is actually a VERY BIG DEAL!!
Also cycling fights are pretty rare and not generally acceptable, so there’s that too. Vincent Baestaens got the boot — presumably he’s the one doing the pushing — while Jens Adams was allowed to finish.
Kevin Pauwels showed on Saturday why he’s clearly the best rider in the world who isn’t a 23-ish year old wunderkind with an excellent, patient third place on Saturday, on a classic Pauwels-type course: flowing, occasionally tricky but often pretty fast. Sunday wasn’t much different, but at age 32 he’s not really a two-race weekend guy, like those kids. Laurens Sweeck did a terrific job of shadowing van der Poel and towing Van Aert along, which is a little weird considering they aren’t teammates, but what else is there for a strong rider to do in that case? Anyway, Sweeck held on for third for his troubles. Which is more than you can say for poor Tom Meeusen, who was the meat in the Wunderkind sandwich for a while on Saturday, only to see van der Poel catch and drop him, and then Pauwels to do the same. Pauwels is now second behind Van Aert in both the World Cup and DVV competitions (which van der Poel isn’t really contesting). Van der Poel has a narrow lead on Van Aert in the Superprestige comp.
I guess the only real question is whether we can separate out Van Aert and van der Poel, and after a weekend like this the answer is maybe? In fairness to the Belgian, Van Aert has been going on for longer, these flowy courses don’t suit his strengths (on hard, heavy, nasty courses) as much as last week’s canceled Koksijde event would have, and anyway it’s a snapshot in a timeline that ends in February with someone in rainbow. But it’s not unfair to ask, when all else is equal, is there anything Van Aert does better than van der Poel? The tragedy of last week’s letdown is that we didn’t get to answer that question in one particular environ, and I don’t know when we will again. Maybe Christmas week.
Here’s the whole Zeven men’s race. It’s pretty fascinating to watch. Not quite as lovely as Hamme-Zogge with its stick fences and wooded scenes (which must be incredible in the snow), but close enough.
Finally, the Zeven event marked Germany’s first world cup CX event since 2003, when a Sankt Wendel hosted a round of the competition. There’s an article at Sporza about how even this event was basically a “gift from the Belgians” who organized the matter. And the website — poldercross.de — is a hint, since there aren’t any polders in Zeven. Whatever. If we had the basketball world championships in Argentina, and a bunch of Americans were on hand to make sure it went well, is there anything wrong with that? I’m happy for the folks in greater Hamburg who got to see the stars of the sport, and maybe it’ll raise interest in the sport, which could bootstrap itself to the ascending road cycling in the minds of German fans.
Fingers crossed for a Patrick Verhoest gallery from Hamme-Zogge! C’mon Patrick, there’s NO WAY you weren’t there today!