Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) took victory on home soil in another epic edition of the World Cup in Namur.
The 28-year-old battled with Ruchpen’s history-making winner Tom Pidcock (Team INEOS) for much of the race, but took advantage of the British champion crashing twice in the closing laps to take arguably the biggest win of his career.
“I saw Tom was strong in the uphill sections but on the off-camber section I was maybe the strongest in the race and that gave me a boost,” Vanthourenhout said at the finish.
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Mistakes at crucial times impacted Pidcock’s race, an effect of going all-out during the double-header weekend. “I think the tank was empty today. I didn’t feel the same as yesterday. I was there and then after that last mistake I couldn’t even push anymore,” the 22-year-old said afterwards.
“In some ways I think it’s good I finished second. It shows there’s still a lot of work to do, shows I can’t back-up two days yet,” he added.
After the stunning Saturday round in the Netherlands, round 11 of the series in Belgium was hotly anticipated.
Organiser, three-time world champion Erwin Vervecken, had made some adaptations since last year. The cyclocross legend has by no means gone soft in retirement and made the famous off-camber stretch tighter to avoid a permanent rut carved into the surface by the tyre tracks of Nys, Albert, Pauwels et al.
The day before, Pidcock became the first non-Belgian or Dutch rider to win a round of the World Cup since Frenchman Francis Mourey when he bunnyhopped away from long-term rival Iserbyt, but the INEOS rider would once again have to make his way through the crowds from the third line of the grid.
Quinten Hermans (Tormans-Circus Cyclo Cross Team) and Toon Aerts (Baloise Trek Lions) ran well to take to the front on the first lap, avoiding the customary opening melee behind.
Aerts returned from a team training camp in Mallorca this weekend and quickly put the experience to good use, opening up clear daylight through the technical, rooted section on the second of seven laps.
Behind, having made his way past overall leader Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal), Pidcock surged through the group to join and then pass firstly Vanthourenhout and then second place Hermans as he went on the hunt for Aerts. The mountain bike Olympic champion then closed the gap to the leading Belgian.
A mechanical issue struck at the worst possible time for Aerts as he punctured going onto the cobbled climb meaning that Pidcock and Vanthourenhout quickly leap-frogged him on lap four.
Cyclo-Cross World Cup: Highights from Namur as Vanthourenhout bests Pidcock
Not wanting to be part of a duo for too long, the British champion attacked at the start of the fifth lap but then crashed on the off-camber descent to allow Vanthourenhout back into the lead.
Disaster then struck again on the sixth lap when Pidcock once again hit the deck going onto the cobbled climb, handing his Belgian rival an 18-second lead.
Vanthourenhout survived a final lap scare himself when his chain briefly slipped but – as had been the case for much of the race – he rode consistently and sensibly to win his second race of the season.
Pidcock eventually rolled in 36-seconds later with Aerts rounding out the podium.
Overall leader Iserbyt often struggles on the Namur parcours and was unable to catch Hermans. His fifth-place finish means that he retains the overall lead with 337 points. Vanthourenhout is now his closest challenger on 228.
The sport’s heavyweights Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) and world champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) return to racing at the next round in Dendermonde on Boxing Day for the first of four ‘big three’ shootouts.
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