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Wout van Aert Triumphs in Benidorm: “It will be an interesting World Championships”

By Monica Buck

In a remarkable show of resilience, Wout van Aert of Visma-Lease a Bike clinched a standalone victory at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup held in Benidorm, Spain. Van Aert’s defining moment came in the final lap where, despite a crash following the barriers and losing his saddle, he successfully fended off Michael Vanthourenhout of Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal to secure his season’s first World Cup triumph.

Van Aert shared his experience, stating, “I have a little bit of pain on my wrist. I think it is meant to be; my mother broke her wrist yesterday, they got married on the 13th of July, today I saw I had the number 13, and I thought, ‘it’s my day’. It was bad luck involved in the race, but I kept going, and that’s the way I like it.” He impressively finished the race sans saddle.

Thibau Nys from Baloise Trek Lions took third place, leading the chase group. He was followed by Eli Iserbyt of Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal, while Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Deceuninck, the World Champion, rallied to fifth place after a penultimate lap crash cost him time.

Reflecting on the race, Van Aert said, “I felt quite strong today. Obviously, Mathieu was strong, too, but had some bad luck, so it’s unfortunate that it didn’t come down to a battle. Still, when Mathieu crashed in the final, I had to beat all the others, and it was not easy. I’m happy I was able to do that. It’s always a sweet feeling to win, but, especially, the feeling of having good legs today was my goal, and I definitely succeeded in that, so it was a nice day for me. My plan will not change; it was a tight race today, so it will be an interesting World Championships.”

The event, staged under sunny, dry conditions in Benidorm, was the penultimate round of the World Cup series. This round, being the 13th, drew top cyclists like Van der Poel, Van Aert, and Tom Pidcock of Ineos Grenadiers, from nearby training camps in Calpe and Denía.

The race commenced with Laurens Sweeck of Crelan-Corendon leading the pack into the dry, dusty circuit. He was closely followed by Joris Nieuwenhuis and Thibau Nys of Baloise Trek Lions, along with Ryan Kamp and Eli Iserbyt of Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal.

The ‘big three’ – Van der Poel, Van Aert, and Pidcock – initially lagged behind, contending with issues like a mechanical problem for Van der Poel and a loose pedal for Van Aert. Despite these setbacks, they advanced through the field, with Van Aert and Van der Poel notably posting the fastest lap times of 6:39.

Pidcock showcased his prowess, leading the chase group and eventually catching up with the leaders. He was accompanied by Michael Vanthourenhout, Iserbyt, Ronhaar, Nieuwenhuis, and Toon Vandebosch of Crelan-Corendon.

As the race intensified, Van Aert’s attack on the pavement saw him gaining a significant lead. However, a pivotal moment occurred when Van der Poel crashed in the penultimate lap, resulting in lost time and positions.

In the final lap, Van Aert and Vanthourenhout emerged as the front runners. Van Aert’s decision to dismount before the barriers led to an unexpected crash and the loss of his saddle. Recounting the incident, Van Aert explained, “I thought I was smart by not jumping over the barriers, so I was sure I wouldn’t make a mistake. I underestimated the surface because my bike bounced, and I jumped up against my saddle. Then my bike hit the ground, and my saddle broke off. That caused a lot of stress.”

Despite this, Van Aert recovered swiftly, maintaining his lead over Vanthourenhout to ultimately clinch a remarkable victory in Benidorm.