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Defending world champion Mathieu van der Poel and World Cup leader Sanne Cant both showed impressive form on Sunday with solo victories at the sixth round of the UCI World Cup, held in Ligniéres-en-Berry, France.
The victories vaulted both riders into the pre-race favorite position for the upcoming 2016 UCI World Cyclocross Championships, which will be held January 30-31 in Heudsen-Zolder, Belgium.
Van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon) finished with a 13 second buffer on World Cup leader Wout Van Aert, and celebrated his win by popping a wheelie across the line. With his second-place finish, Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice), extended his lead in the World Cup standings over Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin), who crossed the line third in Lignieres, just 17 seconds down on van der Poel.
The wheelie capped off an otherwise frustrating race for van der Poel, who was forced to chase during the early laps after becoming sandwiched between riders at the start. The Dutchman picked his way through the field, and eventually surged up to the front group, which contained van Aert, van der Haar, Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink), Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleion Games) and other riders.
Van der Poel surged on the fifth of eight laps, and eventually escaped with van der Haar on a technical section of the course. By the end of the lap, however, van der Poel had dropped his breakaway companion, and was free to ride in for the win.
The win is van der Poel’s third straight on the World Cup circuit, and it cements his place at the peak of the sport after missing the early season to recover from a knee injury. He now sits fifth in the World Cup standings behind van Aert (406 points), van der Haar (385), Pauwels (356) and Nys (351).
Jeremy Powers notched the top American finish, crossing the line in 23rd place, 3:09 in arrears.
Unlike van der Poel, Cant enjoyed a relatively problem-free start, and rode in second place alongside Belgian rider Ellen van Loy (Telenet-Fidea) and Italian Eva Lechner (Luna) early in the race. Cant didn’t attack so much as she simply rode away from the other two, and by the end of the opening lap enjoyed a five-second advantage. From there, Cant steadily built on her lead, crossing the line with a 20-second gap on van Loy, with Lechner in third. American Kaitlin Antonneuau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who rode as high as fourth place, finished fifth, 49 seconds behind Cant. Americans Elle Anderson (SRAM-Strava) finished 19th, with U.S. champion Katie Compton (Trek) in 33rd place.
The victory marks Cant’s third World Cup win of the season, and it makes her the odds-on favorite to win the upcoming UCI World Championships. Cant was the runner up in 2015 to Frenchwoman Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who has abandoned her 2015-16 cyclocross campaign to recover from a knee injury.