Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) made a winning return to the UCI World Cup in the snow of Val di Sole – and once again proved how hard it is for non-World Tour riders to match his powerhouse style.
The Belgian champion dominated on the Italian course, taking the racing line as if he were on skis to win his third race in a row and second of the weekend ahead of Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal).
Tom Pidcock (Team Ineos) also took to the podium in his second race of the season after trading blows with series leader and cyclo-cross nemesis Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) to finish on the third step.
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“I think today was not [only] about avoiding mistakes but always moving forward,” Van Aert said at the finish.
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The organisers took round nine to alpine conditions to showcase the sport's credentials as a Winter Olympic discipline, with these being defined as having to take place on either snow or ice. The hard-packed parcours of the three-kilometre lap would pose a huge test to the rider’s skills and concentration.
Vanthourenhout started confidently so that he could have the best of the lines with Van Aert and teammate Iserbyt also staying out of danger early on.
On the second of seven laps, Van Aert began to gradually gap his Belgian rivals by taking the toughest sections at speed. Vanthourenhout was keen to keep the tricolour in sight after Van Aert’s dominant victory in Boom but was gradually distanced.
Having started further back on the grid, British champion Pidcock had a tougher job to get to the front of proceedings, but the mountain bike Olympic gold medallist excels on tough courses and remained patient before striking out for the podium on lap four.
The 22-year-old bridged back up to his old rival Iserbyt and they engaged in a ding-dong battle for third place that resembled their under-23 shootouts.
On the penultimate lap, Van Aert pushed it too hard on the treacherous course and flew over the handlebars, but this only served as a reminder that he is indeed human.
Almost five years ago to the day that Van Aert won the last Italian World Cup in Fiuggi, the past Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo champion once again had his arms raised in Bel Paese as he came over the line 49 seconds ahead of Vanthourenhout.
“In the beginning I felt very good in the snow, so I went full for a victory, but I saw Wout directly on my wheel and on the straight lines he was stronger, and we know it’s Wout van Aert so I’m happy with the second place,” the 28-year-old said afterwards.
Van Aert powers to victory in snowy Val di Sole cyclocross
Behind, both Pidcock and Iserbyt made small mistakes in the snow in the finale, but it was the Brit who prevailed.
“Last week I was seventh, this week I was third, I think I’m getting my legs pretty fast,” the Ineos rider said.
Although he finished in fourth Iserbyt remains the standout leader of the overall standings with Toon Aerts away on the Baloise Trek Lions training camp.
With two of ‘the big three’ on the podium and world champion Mathiueu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) returning next weekend, does the key to beating the multi-talents indeed lie on the road? The trio are doing their very best to avoid each other and will only throw down for the first time after Christmas.
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