Van der Poel immeadiately wins his first cyclocross race of the season in Hulst
The technical and slippery course in Hulst provided plenty of spectacle. Alpecin-Deceuninck was able to celebrate twice, as both Puck Pieterse and Mathieu van der Poel, making his return to cyclo-cross, won on Dutch soil.
Puck Pieterse took her second UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup victory of the season in Hulst. Pieterse and Fem van Empel were evenly matched for a long time, but after a crash the latter had to give in.
The start for the women’s elite race in Hulst, the Netherlands, exceptionally took place at 11 a.m. The World Cup gave way to another World Cup, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Puck Pieterse seemed to have no problem with the earlier start and flew into the wet and muddy field first. It was immediately clear that Hulst was going to be a real thriller as lots of riders fell in the background on a steep and slippery descent.
The young duo Pieterse and Van Empel left their rivals in their wake and embarked on an exciting duel after just half a lap. Only Ceylin Alvarado managed to keep up by a few seconds. After one lap, Pieterse had built up a small lead of six seconds over Van Empel. Alvarado followed 19 seconds later with Van Anrooij already half a minute behind.
Pieterse rode masterfully over the slopes but Van Empel was not to be underestimated and gained on her young opponent. It all came down to avoiding mistakes on the slippery surface. In the background, Van Anrooij joined Alvarado for third place a minute behind the lead. The European champion remained seven seconds behind and did not give up, almost allowing her to rejoin her compatriot Pieterse in the third lap. Van Empel fearlessly descended towards Pieterse’s wheel, catching up with her, and the duel could begin.
But moments later Van Empel slipped and had to straighten her handlebars. Her derailleur also shifted to crash mode causing the leader in the standings to lose a lot of time on Pieterse. She had to find a way to reach the pit on her hardest gear, causing her to make one mistake after another. Going into the fourth lap, she was already a whole minute behind, but her second place seemed assured as Van Anrooij was already a minute and a half behind.
Pieterse made mistakes too, falling in both the penultimate and final laps. But unlike Van Empel, she did not have to cope with any equipment issues and was able to go solo to claim an impressive second World Cup victory in a row. Unlucky Van Empel was second and Van Anrooij third. Van Empel retains her strong lead in the standings.
Mathieu van der Poel returned to cyclo-cross in Hulst. The Dutchman started on the fourth row, but in no time he was at the front. As Pidcock broke his wheel during the final lap, Van der Poel soloed to his first win of the season.
Dutch champion Lars van der Haar once again took the lead at the start. But all eyes were on his compatriot Mathieu van der Poel, making his return to the field. The Dutch rider had to start in the fourth row, so getting a good start was crucial for the rest of his race. And the former world champion understood that immediately. Van der Poel got away in around 18th place and made up a lot of ground right away after several strong technical turns.
A bold manoeuvre enabled him to pass three more riders. He didn’t hesitate for a second and moments later was on the wheel of leader Van der Haar. After barely six minutes, he decisively took the lead. Pidcock was still in hot pursuit at that point. Van der Haar and Iserbyt tried to stay on Van der Poel’s wheel. But a minor skid soon cost Van der Poel his lead and in the same lap another slide caused him to drop back to sixth position.
This allowed Van der Haar to take over to lead the race with a lot of riders on his trail. Moments later it was Pidcock who headed out front with Sweeck following a few seconds and Iserbyt behind. Fast starter Van der Poel was in sixth place 17 seconds behind, but made a second attempt to storm to the head of the race.
Sweeck took over from the world champion moments later and in the background Van der Poel sped towards the duo. He soon rejoined Iserbyt and Van der Haar within seven seconds. In the fourth lap, it was Pidcock who turned up the heat on Van der Poel, but a mistake allowed Van der Poel to catch up. Moments later, Pidcock slipped again, losing several seconds on the Dutchman.
Entering the fifth lap, with Van der Poel, Pidcock and Sweeck, three riders were still in the race for the podium with just a few seconds separating them. Pidcock was in pursuit but stayed close to Van der Poel. It was a matter of avoiding any mistakes on this rather technical circuit. Van der Poel suffered another minor slip but did not relinquish his lead and went into the final lap with 12 seconds on the world champion.
Pidcock’s wheel suddenly broke on a descent, causing a crash. The world champion saw his second place go up in smoke and decided to step out of the race moments later. Half a lap later, making a strong return, Mathieu van der Poel was able to triumph in Hulst for the fifth time in his career. With Pidcock out, Sweeck rode to second place and Iserbyt was just able to stay ahead of Van der Haar to claim third. However, third place was no longer enough for him to keep his leader’s jersey and Sweeck now takes the lead in the standings.