Cyclo-Cross Victories for van der Poel and Pidcock Over the Weekend

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

To no one’s surprise, Mathieu van der Poel turned his first cyclo-cross race of the 2023-24 season into a cakewalk. Starting in the first row of Saturday’s X20 Trofee Herentals, he was the quickest off the line and never had to look at the back of any of his competitors. The 0:28 margin of victory over the second-place Tom Pidcock doesn’t begin to tell the story of his dominance. Before the first lap of eight had been completed, his victory was never in doubt.

The 28-year-old Alpecin-Deceunick rider pulled away from his pursuers on the descent from the very first climb and had a lead of 0:13 over UCI World Cup points leader Eli Iserbyt after the first lap. His lead ballooned to 29 seconds after lap 2 and, despite a soft crash into the mud on the fourth lap, reached 0:57 after lap 6. If he had looked back at any time during the race, he would have seen no one at all, so great was his lead. Van der Poel had the luxury of relaxing and accepting the plaudits of the spectators on the final straight to the finish.

“I felt good from the start, and then on the hardest part of the course, I just went full to the top,” he told journalists after the race. “I immediately had a small gap and decided to just do my own race. It was fun to be back.”

Van der Poel, who will be going for his sixth cyclocross world championship in February, said he had a soft spot in his heart for cyclocross. “It is my first love and what I always did when I was young, so for sure, it is always nice to come back. To get the ‘cross feeling back is always good.” Based on this performance in his first race of the season, and with his only potential rivals, Pidcock and Wout van Aert, not competing in the world championships, van der Poel might as well pick up his trophy now.

Mathieu van der Poel
Van Der Poel at the men’s elite race of X20 Trofee Herentals. © Profimedia

The other notable performance in the race was that of Pidcock who rides for Ineos Grenadiers and said before the race that he was targeting the 2024 Tour de France GC, an ambitious goal considering he will be competing against Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (BORA-hansgrohe as of Jan. 1).

“I want to prove myself in the Tour,” he told Sporza. “Last year, I didn’t really know what I wanted and what the team wanted. I had no clear goal and I paid the price for that. I came home with nothing. This year, I want to focus entirely on the general classification.”

He also said that he had no expectations in his first cyclocross race because he had only done one training. “My fitness is good, but… I will need every minute to practice my technique today,” he said.

Starting with bib 12, Pidcock found himself behind a phalanx of riders as van der Poel took off on his own. But he rode a measured race, picking off those in front of him one by one, until he finally reached the leading group of pursuers on lap 5. He passed the last of them, Dutch rider Lars van der Haar, on the final lap and crossed the finish line a mere 0:01 ahead of the Dutchman.

Pidcock did better the next day, in the UCI World Cup race at Namur. Starting even farther back, with bib 35, Pidcock was slowed soon after the start by a dropped chain, which set him back farther. But, as he had done Saturday, he again rode from back to front, picking up riders one by one, until he had only Pim Ronhaar in front of him. He passed the Dutchman on lap 7 and quickly opened up a decent lead, which stretched to 0:09 at the start of the final lap. Though a flat tyre on the last lap slowed his progress, he crossed the line 0:15 ahead of Ronhaar, with another Dutch rider, Joris Nieuwenhuis, finishing third, at 0:33.

The riders Pidcock bested over the weekend, in Herentals and Namur, weren’t just anybody. Ronhaar is second in the current Cyclocross World Cup standings, van der Haar is third and Nieuwenhuis is fourth. The points leader, Eli Iserbyt, finished fourth in both Herentals and Namur.

“It wasn’t very easy but I can be happy with this victory,” he told Eurosport after the Namur race. “If you start here too quickly, you will make a lot of mistakes in the end. So, for me, the main thing was that I had to wait.” The course, with its many muddy stretches, numerous climbs and treacherous descents, was more difficult than Herentals. “I rode in the red for a very long time,” Pidcock admitted. “But I really can’t complain. It’s a great start [to the season].”

With the so-called Big Three – van der Poel, Pidcock and Wout van Aert, who won his first race a week earlier – set to face each other in several upcoming races, the spotlight will be on cyclocross well into 2024.