You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Mathieu van der Poel overcomes Wout van Aert to win Benidorm Cyclocross World Cup

Cycling News logo Cycling News 1/22/2023 Kirsten Frattini

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) got the better of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to win the penultimate round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Benidorm. 

The Dutchman had another close battle with his old foe but came out on top, rounding the last corner in the lead and carrying his sprint to victory.

"To win is always super nice, but in the end, I think it was just a really nice race," Van der Poel said.

"It was quite dangerous, slippery and really difficult to ride faster than we were doing. In the end, it was a great battle against Wout. I’m really happy to win."

Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) finished third at nine seconds back, with World Cup leader Laurens Sweeck (Crelan Fristads) in fourth at 20 seconds back, and World Champion Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) in fifth at 34 seconds.

Van der Poel and Van Aert rid their rivals with half a lap to go, both jockeying for the front position across the technical and sandy terrain. Van der Poel pushed his way through to the front in the last few hundred metres, where it counted most in the set-up for the final sprint. 

Van der Poel crosses the line ahead of Van Aert © Matthias Ekman / Van der Poel crosses the line ahead of Van Aert

As Van der Poel raced onto the tarmac, Van Aert tried to sprint around him through the outside line of the last corner, but he closed the door on his rival and crossed the line with the win.

"Of course, I’m happy that I didn’t crash, but I’m more disappointed to miss the win,” Van Aerts said. 

"I knew leading in the last half a lap was crucial to take the win, and I regret, a bit, my tactics. I had to go all-in from the climb to the last part and try to hold the lead. I focused more on staying in the front instead of setting a harder pace. Mathieu surprised me, passing me in the park, and I couldn’t make up anyone."

How it unfolded

The Benidorm World Cup marked the 13th and penultimate round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup series in Spain. It also marked the last cyclocross race for Pidcock as the World Champion, as he will not contest the final round of the series in Besançon on January 29 in France or the Cyclocross World Championships held February 4-5 in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, instead choosing to focus on training ahead of the Spring Classics.

Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) was absent from the race, so Sweeck took an opportunity to further build his lead in the World Cup standings before the final round.

Many thought it was one of the more challenging courses on the World Cup to favour riders like Van der Poel and Pidcock due to the circuit's dry, sandy and technical aspects. Van Aert noted that his form was unknown ahead of the race, revealing that he had not touched his cyclocross bike since winning in Zonhoven on January 8.

With a fast start, Van der Poel stormed off the line and onto the circuit, followed by Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), Pidcock and Kevin Kuhn (Tormans). Van der Poel was the only one to ride through the sand pit on the opening lap while his followers were forced off their bikes to run. 

Although he carried his strength up the 7% drag and into the single track, Pidcock saw his opportunity to launch an attack as soon as the circuit widened. The World Champion opened a small gap forcing Van der Poel to chase, with Kuhn, Iserbyt, Sweeck and Van Aert all in tow.

Starting lap 2, Pidcock raced through the finish line with a blistering 6:42 lap time, a few valuable seconds ahead of Van der Poel and Kuhn, and further back Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions), Van Aert and Sweeck led the next chase group. The six riders regrouped on the uphill drag and into the single track, but Pidcock remained in first position and kept the pressure high.

Iserbyt and Sweeck struggled to hang on to the lead group, burning matches to barely stay in contact with Pidcock, Van der Poel, Kuhn and Van Aert. As the pace lulled ever-so-slightly, Sweeck took the opportunity to move up in position onto the second wheel behind Pidcock.

The strongest through the sand on lap 4, Van der Poel put in another powerful dig to open a gap that left everyone wondering if Pidcock had done too much too soon. Van Aert raced around Pidcock in pursuit of Van der Poel and was within touching distance of the Dutchman by the time they reached the single track. Surprisingly, Iserbyt and Sweeck gained momentum just seconds behind Van der Poel and Van Aert, with Pidcock rapidly losing ground.

Van der Poel, Van Aert and Sweeck reconnected on the tarmac at the start of the fifth lap (of nine), just seconds ahead of lone chaser Sweeck and then seven seconds back to Pidcock and Kuhn.

Van der Poel stretched the race out again on lap 6, and while Van Aert eventually reconnected, so too did Iserbyt, while Pidcock appeared to have gained a second wind racing in fourth position just a couple of seconds back, as Sweeck dropped to fifth. Iserbyt took the race lead for the first and only time on lap 7; Van Aert, Van der Poel and Pidcock appeared content to sit on his wheel.

After a short reprieve, Van Aert wound it up on the uphill tarmac stretch, leading into the single track with Van der Poel fish-tailing through the dust in tow, the pair appearing to shake off Pidcock, Sweeck and Iserbyt. The two leaders were locked together with two laps to go, and both appeared to be on top form with just two weeks to the World Championships.

Sweeck, refusing to let go of the two leaders, closed the gap on the uphill tarmac and pushed ahead of the technical chicane to the front, leading Van Aert and Van der Poel through the bell lap.

However, his effort didn't pay dividends, as Van Aert squeezed through a tight corner to move into first position, Van der Poel also storming forward, with Sweeck unrelenting in the third wheel.

Iserbyt had barely latched back onto the three riders when Van Aert attacked over the climb in the most decisive late-race move that stretched out the front of the race and forced both Iserbyt and Sweeck into chase mode through the final half circuit.

Van der Poel made his race-winning attack with several hundred metres to go, which shattered the front group entirely, and only Van Aert could follow him on the tarmac, but the Dutchman was already sprinting for the win.

Results powered by FirstCycling


More from Cycling News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon