Mathieu van der Poel has previewed the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships course ahead of the latest showdown with long-time rival Wout van Aert in Ostend on Sunday.
The Dutchman, who, like Van Aert, will be seeking a fourth rainbow jersey, said that the course looks to be finely balanced to each man’s strengths, with a beach section favouring Van Aert and a grass section on a horse racing track favouring Van der Poel.
Speaking to Sporza after his course recon on Thursday, the 26-year-old said that the 565-metre beach section could be the more decisive part of the 2.9-kilometre-long course on the North Sea coast, rather than the 1.3 kilometres of grass.
“The course has pleasantly surprised me,” he said. “It’s not going to be a muddy one, though I also like to race in the sand.
“On the beach we will be pushing hard. It’s treacherous. You can quickly gain 20 seconds, but you can lose out just as quickly.
“On Sunday, the difference will be made earlier on the beach. The stretch from the sea to the dike and from the dike to the bridge looks very difficult. It will be hard to make tracks in that sand – we will be pushing hard or running.”
The section of bridges that connect the sand and grass that make up 400 metres of the course in total will also be a challenge where Van Aert should have the upper hand, said Van der Poel.
“It’s a very nice course. The passage over the bridge and on the beach will be very difficult. The second part on the horse racing track is a bit more technical. There’s more turning and turning but you won’t make the difference there.”
In a reverse of Van Aert’s comments earlier this week, Van der Poel tipped his rival as a slight favourite for the win, though he’s beating Van Aert 5-3 in their meetings so fa this season, including wins at the UCI World Cup rounds in Hulst and Namur, as well as the Superprestige round in Husden-Zolder and the X2O Trofee rounds at Flandriencross and the GP Sven Nys.
Van Aert won their last matchup at the final UCI World Cup round in Overijse last weekend to seal a third overall title in the competition. He soloed to victory 1:03 up on Van der Poel, who suffered an early puncture and a late crash.
“We have been presented with a course where we can both do our thing,” Van der Poel said. “I have the advantage on the horse racing track, while the bridge and beach will be better for Wout.”
Van der Poel will be joined in Ostend by brother David, Joris Niewenhuis, Corné van Kessel and Lars van der Haar, although, in a reverse of the women’s race, it’s the Belgians who bring the strongest squad. Toon Aerts, Eli Iserbyt, Michael Vanthourenhout, Laurens Sweeck, Quinten Hermans, Tim Merlier, Gianni Vermeersch and Daan Soete all line up alongside Van Aert.
Find out how to watch the 2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships live from anywhere here.