Mathieu van der Poel says the rivalry between himself and Wout van Aert will be ‘something special’ to look back on at the end of their careers.
There was little to separate the rivals on Sunday as Van der Poel beat Van Aert in a sprint finish at Hoogerheide to win the elite men’s 2023 UCI Cyclocross World Championship.
It was the Dutchman’s fifth elite world title and the final exchange of the cyclocross season before the pair return to battle on the road during the Spring Classics. In comparison, Van Aert has three elite ‘cross world crowns and was beaten into second by his rival for the fourth time.
“I think if you take one of us two away, then it makes the races less interesting for sure,” said a delighted Van der Poel. “It was a good battle against Wout who is really hard to beat, so I’m happy.
“It’s better already for a couple of years of cyclocross and the road, there is always respect between us. Maybe you don’t appreciate it sometimes when you get beaten but after our career it will be something special to look back on.”
Both riders tried to attack their rival during the race, with their opponent responding each time. On the final lap most people expected Van der Poel to launch his bid for glory on the barrier section, which he was visibly quicker over than Van Aert. However, the Dutchman left in until the final uphill sprint to the line and had enough to power past the Belgian.
“I didn’t really make a plan in advance because I never do it and then Lars [Van der Haar] did a fast opening lap and I felt really good so I just went on the hardest part of the course,” added Van der Poel.
“It was nice that there was two of us immediately, because we didn’t have to fight for position today. It was already pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to drop him and the other way around. I tried a couple of times, everybody expected me to try something at the barriers but I wanted to be second when we entered the finish straight. I don’t think in 10 or 15 metres I would take enough to drop him, so he would be in my wheel at the stairs again, he would have the advantage. That was my plan.
“I tried to put some pressure on sometimes [over the barriers] but it’s not as if Wout wasn’t able to jump them. If he got off the bike then you can really do something. He was also really fast getting on the wheel so it made no sense to try something there. The other part of the course was harder.”
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