Cyclo-cross strongman Mathieu van der Poel has a history of win streaks in his career, going back to his amateur days of 2010-11 when he won all 29 races he started. Last year he won 24 of 25 races, including a third elite world championship, a second European championship and his sixth Dutch title. The only race he didn’t conquer was a third place at Hotondcross last December.
This year, the Alpecin-Fenix rider began an abbreviated 10-event ‘cross calendar, following a break from his road cycling campaign, with a win in the sand at Scheldecross on Saturday. However, the storyline in the usual script leading to his defence of the rainbow jersey had an abrupt twist on Sunday, as Van der Poel would not go two-for-two on the weekend and he finished second to young Briton Tom Pidcock (Trinity Racing) at Superprestige Gavere.
“I am satisfied with my cross. Pidcock was really impressively strong today, he is the deserved winner. Second place was the best for me,” the world champion said in a post-race interview reported by Het Nieuwsblad.
“Today was a lot of hard work for me. Tom was quite impressive, especially on the running parts. I had to go very deep to follow and soon felt that his pace was very high.”
The 21-year-old Briton was the silver medalist in his first elite Cyclo-cross World Championships in February, finishing a distant second to Van der Poel, but reversed his fortune in the Gavere mud on Sunday. Van der Poel admitted he was not sharp on the course, which was probably due to some fatigue on the second day of back-to-back racing.
“He kept hurting me on the running pieces,” said the Dutchman about a dominant performance by Pidcock. “Because I made a mistake on a technical passage after a running lane in the sixth lap, I could no longer follow and he drove away from me. I no longer had the legs to close it.
“I was also not very recovered from Saturday. In my first cross weekend, it is certainly not easy to double up immediately. Yesterday’s game, was a bit of an assault on my body and I just didn’t feel 100 per cent recovered. It is not entirely unexpected that today I was less good than yesterday. My legs soured rather quickly. I ride a good cross, only someone was stronger.”
Pidcock took the lead from the start of the race and set a fast pace, with Van der Poel noting that he was “at my limit throughout the entire cross.” The young Brit didn’t really shake Van der Poel until lap 6, when an error from the Dutchman saw the gap grow to more than 14 seconds, and then grow to 25 seconds as PIdcock crossed the line with no one in sight.
“I can’t always win everything. Today I come across someone who is stronger and can live with that,” added Van der Poel. “Of course I wanted to win twice in a row, but it can’t always be a prize. All in all, I can be satisfied with my first cross weekend.”
The much-anticipated duel between Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) will take place next weekend, when the two will meet at the second round of the World Cup in Namur on December 20. Van Aert took third in the first round at Tabor and did not race this weekend. They last met on the road in October at the Tour of Flanders, with Van der Poel taking the sprint win by a wheel over his rival.
The cyclo-cross showdown may not be a two-man contest now, as a new script will certainly include Pidcock.
“For next week in Namur, Pidcock is also one of the main candidates for victory. He was very strong today and I expect him to be on the outposts next week. He finds a course that suits him well.”