Despite all of the talk about Technological Fraud, there was some absolutely fantastic cyclocross racing in Heusden-Zolder this past weekend. Instead of re-hashing the cheating story, which you can read here, we’ll review the fun parts of the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships. Let’s break it down a bit.
Women – Under 23
Despite sideways rain at times, and the cloud of technological doping, the women’s U23 event delivered some great racing on Saturday. Despite some multiple lead changes, several spills and some very slick sections of the course, Evie Richards from the UK took the win, with Ellen Noble from the US cracking the top ten. Interestingly, the highest-placing Belgian was Laura Verdonschot in 11th place.
|7||Alice Maria ARZUFFI||ITA|
Women – Elite
Lots of changes and crashes. While Katie Compton started her season late, there was still high expectations for her to place well or possibly take the win. Unfortunately, she went down early, which set her back, and she never regained enough momentum to move to the front, finally finishing in 13th place. Meanwhile, the front of the race had many dramatic lead changes with Nikki Harris, Sanne Cant, Thalita De Jong and Caroline Mani all taking turns leading the charge. In the end, 23-year old De Jong gapped Cant and Mani for the win. Helen Wyman finished just out of the top 10 in 11th place, while Kaitlin Antonneau was the highest-placing American, in eighth place.
|1||Thalita DE JONG||NED|
|4||Sophie DE BOER||NED|
|10||Sanne VAN PAASSEN||NED|
Men – Under 23
A Belgian came out on top of the men’s U23 race early on Saturday when Eli Iserbyt took the win, but it was a close one. Adam Toupalik from the Czech Republic was leading on the next-to-last lap. Thinking it was the last lap, he crossed the Start/Finish line with his arms victoriously raised in the air. Meanwhile both the English- and Dutch-speaking announcers were yelling, “No! No! No!” and the crowd doing the same, while several riders, still racing, passed him. He faded to about eighth place before he realized what was going on. Yet, Toupalik battled back to the front on the real last lap, only to lose to Iserbyt in a dramatic sprint that came down to the line.
Men – Elite
The men’s elite race, the marquis event of the day, delivered drama, excitement and some absolutely prime racing. Some truly Belgian misty, light rain started to fall just before call-ups, and that iconic cyclocross weather remained for most of the race.
There were plenty of lead changes between Wout van Aert and Lars van der Haar. Mathieu van der Poel also had a couple quick pulls at the front, but the loudest cheers were the few times when Sven Nys put the motor in gear, taking the highline, passing van Aert and van der Haar. It was the 39-year old’s final World Championship, and he gave the home crowd a lot to cheer about during the race, finally finishing in fourth place.
Mathieu van der Poel was a threat through most of the race until he bobbled on a run up next to the grandstands. Stepping backwards off the bike, his foot went right into the front wheel of van Aert who had quickly dismounted directly behind him. Unfortunately both riders were held up for several seconds while each tried to untangle the shoe-wheel mess, since van der Poel’s shoe was stuck in the spokes because of the shoe buckles. By the time they untangled, Nys, Pauwels and van der Haar were away.
Van Aert caught back up, but van der Poel faded, having at least one other off-the-bike moment, finishing fifth, just ahead of his brother David. Soon enough van der Haar caught Nys and Pauwels, and then van Aert caught everyone. Nys faded back to fourth while Pauwels stoically maintained forward momentum for third place. Van Aert and van der Haar battled a bit back and forth on the final laps, until van Aert finally opened a bit of a gap, which would hold to the end of the race.
|1||Wout VAN AERT||BEL|
|2||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED|
|5||Mathieu VAN DER POEL||NED|
|6||David VAN DER POEL||NED|
Despite the negativity around the technological doping scandal rumors, and the rather unpleasant weather conditions, the 70,000ish crowd immensely enjoyed the weekend. Beer and jenever flowed like water, while the locals danced, swayed and fell down to the…unique…sounds of Belgian pop music blaring in no less than four enormous party tents. (It’s always fun to watch the result of highly intoxicated people ‘dancing’ in tents with wet and slick flooring.)
And here’s a little gallery of some other images from the weekend.