February 06, 2023
Technical perfection, ruthless attacks and a battle for the ages. Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, we’ve never seen anything quite like you two
Sometimes you watch bike races that are so perfect, it’s hard to believe they are happening in real time. It is almost like the riders have rehearsed how the race will pan out, planned how they will take the corners and have set parameters of when to attack so the right people will be at the front of the race at the right time. Until the very last moment, the 2023 men’s Cyclocross World Championships was one of these races.
Everything went to the script. It was a hectic and fast start, but Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert both got away cleanly. They didn’t hit the front of straight away – they never do – instead, they settled into a rhythm, following the lines of others, Van Aert a little behind and Van der Poel up front. It took just three minutes of this type of racing until the Dutch rider launched first his attack, one that would shape the rest of the elite men’s World Championships. When Van der Poel made that move up and over the bridge, almost like a magnet, Van Aert was drawn out of the wheels behind. As they punched over the long drag on the course, the Belgian was the only one, like always, able to follow the explosive moves of Van der Poel. From then, they were away, leaving nothing but tyre tracks in the mud for their rivals to follow.
As the two riders battled on, huge swathes of people lined the side of the course, turning what is normally just an unassuming field in the small village of Hoogerheide into a booming stadium hosting a headline act. Van der Poel and Van Aert were the performers to an adoring audience who screamed, shouted, cheered, threw their beers and ate their frites. Like they have been for the last 11 years of their careers, the rival duo were simply a cut above the rest, like two deities of ancient Greece waging a sporting duel that will go down for the ages.
Every pedal stroke each of them made had a purpose. It was closer to art than it was cycling, both riding in unison, taking turns behind one another, gracefully finessing the corners, dismounting and remounting with exemplary technique, taking each rut with the perfect balance of control and relaxation, letting their bikes take the lead…
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