An incredible crowd of over 40,000 cycling fans got what they had all come to see as the much-anticipated duel between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert came to fruition at the cyclocross world championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.
It would be the Canyon rider, Mathieu Van der Poel who would take the crown and his fifth elite world cyclocross title after launching a massive sprint for the line that left Wout van Aert with no answers to the Dutchman's power.
A sunny, windy day in the Netherlands had dried out the course after the previous day's racing had seen rain that made for slick and greasy conditions. With the course so dry and fast Wout van Aert had opted for a massive 48T single chainring on his Cervelo Cycles bike, for what was set to be a fast-paced race.
The atmosphere was electric as the crowd, 20 or more deep in places roared on their heroes as the clash of the cyclocross titans kicked off straight from the green light, with the two riders powering away and clear of the pack in the early stages of lap one.
Once clear they would go toe to toe with each rider testing the other in various parts of the track. It would be Van der Poel who piled the pressure on Van Aert through much of the opening half of the race as he led the two rivals in a sprint around the hard, rutted circuit. Van der Poel looked far more comfortable bunny-hopping the huge 40cm planks and that would see him take the smallest advantage each lap. However, Van Aert could not be distanced and would not disappear, powering back through the woods and downhill sections.
They continued to go shoulder to shoulder and could not be separated through the final sections of the race, the buzz of the crowd built as the final sprint seemed inevitable. It would come as Van der Poel outfoxed his rival, who had anticipated an attack over the final hurdles, was outsprinted as Van der Poel launched from behind Van Aert on the final bend and the Belgian couldn’t counter. Van der Poel made a huge power charge for the line, sitting up in the final meters to take the adulation from the home crowd and his fifth elite world title.
“Everyone said in advance the race should be a sprint between me and Wout. It’s incredible, this is for sure one of my nicest victories of all time, I’ll remember this for a long time.” Mathieu said after the race and added “It’s hard to put into words. I worked super hard for this one, I had a few problems with my back again, but I reset with the team at training camp and worked toward this race, which I marked from the beginning of the season. I think the crowds would have been different today if it was just me, or just him. We both bring each other and the sport to a higher level. I’ve never seen anything like this in cyclocross. We get worried by the other, but after our careers, we’ll be proud of these battles.”
Mathieu van der Poel said he starts at zero again, as the rivals begin their classics road season with a swift return to battle coming at Strade Bianche, in early March and will continue at Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The rivalry of the ages is set to continue for many years to come.