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Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) won a thrilling battle against Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) at the Superprestige Diegem on Wednesday.
The Belgian Champion capitalized off a last-minute error from Pidcock through the last corner into the bottom of the circuit’s decisive staircase to take the victory, as Van der Poel finished 33 seconds back in third place.
“This can’t be healthy,” an exhausted but triumphant Van Aert said in a post-race interview.
The blistering race between the three top riders swung back and forth on each lap, but with Van der Poel distanced on the final lap, the race for the win was between Van Aert and Pidcock.
The two leaders fought for the first position into the final steps, but Pidcock was forced off his bike to run through the mud in the last left-hand turn while Van Aert raced into the lead out of the corner, ran up the steps, clipped in and sprinted for the day’s victory.
“I thought the last time I went over him, I was a bit complacent. I had the lead into the final stairs, and Wout came passed me in that last bit before the final bridge, so at that point, I was never going to beat him. He ran up those stairs and jumped on his bike before I even looked up. It was a shame I couldn’t pull it off,” Pidcock said.
How it unfolded
The third day of cyclocross racing in a row this week, after the World Cup in Gavere and Superprestige Heusden-Zolder, Superprestige Diegem offered a night race in its return to the calendar since 2019.
Headling the start line were the ‘big three’ of cyclocross; Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers).
A crash off the start line caught out about half a dozen of the 92 starters as Kevin Kuhn (Tormans) led the race onto the grass.
The Swiss champion was followed by Pidcock, Van Aert and Van der Poel, along with Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions), Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads), Toon Vandebosch (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal).
Vanthourenhout crashed over the barriers after colliding with Sweeck, and the European Champion remained sat at the side of the circuit for several seconds, later remounting his bike and finishing fifth.
Heading into the second lap, the lead was swapping back and forth between Pidcock and Iserbyt, with Van Aert and Van der Poel following close behind, and then seven seconds back to Van der Haar and 14 seconds to Kuhn and Sweeck.
A strong start for Pidcock saw the world champion set a quick pace that allowed him to open a small gap over his rivals, forcing Van der Poel and Van Aert to chase at a pace that Iserbyt appeared unable to hold.
The four riders regrouped ahead of the run-up, as Van Aert took the lead, but their cooperation didn’t last long as Van der Poel attacked through the sand pit and gained a slight lead on the chasing trio.
Van der Poel had a four-second lead on Van Aert at the start of the third lap (of eight), with Pidcock at five seconds back, Iserbyt at 20 seconds, and Van der Haar even further behind.
Van Aert and Pidcock regained contact with Van der Poel on the pavement section of the course, with the ‘big three’ once again racing for the victory. The trio of Iserbyt, Van der Haar and Vanthourenhout reunited slightly further back in their race for fourth place.
Van Aert put pressure on his rivals along the side of the pitch, and while Van der Poel was quick to respond, Pidcock appeared to struggle, making micro efforts to regain contact in third wheel.
Van der Poel, who consistently took 15 to 20 metres out of his rivals through the sand pit and into the barriers, managed to open several seconds on the fourth lap. The move forced Van Aert to do the bulk of the work, with Pidcock on his wheel, to chase the lone leader.
Van der Poel had four seconds in hand at the start of lap five and extended his lead through the sand pit again. A determined Pidcock pushed ahead in pursuit of Van der Poel while Van Aert, for the first time in this race, appeared to show signs of fatigue.
Van der Poel had nine seconds on Pidcock and 13 seconds to Van Aert at the start of lap six. As Van der Poel took a fresh bike, Pidcock and Van Aert opted not to enter the mechanic pits but instead picked up speed. Van der Poel looked back over his shoulder on the pavement to see both Pidcock and Van Aert right on his wheel, resetting the race for victory.
Van Aert was the next to make his move through the sand pit and over the barriers, appearing to have recovered from his previous effort and putting pressure on Van der Poel and Pidcock.
Seven seconds separated Van Aert from his two biggest rivals with two laps to go, but Van der Poel reconnected with him, and as the pair sat up in a tactical battle, Pidcock rode passed them to the front.
Pidcock appeared to gain a second wind and picked up speed heading into the last lap with Van Aert on his wheel. The pair dropped Van der Poel in the process, forcing the Dutchman to settle for third place.
Into the sand one last time, Van Aert took the lead on the right, Pidcock a close second on the left, and the pair came out side-by-side. Over the barriers, Van Aert remained in the lead until Pidcock overtook him through the technical turns, both riders wanting the first position into the final steps.
Van Aert hit the steps first, as Pidcock had to get off his bike and run through the final corner, with the Belgian back on his bike and sprinting for the win in Diegem.
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