Mathieu van der Poel, Denise Betsema unbeatable at World Cup Hulst

Van der Poel unstoppable after going solo from second lap, Betsema betters Lucinda Brand and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Denise Betsema withstood a long lonely chase from Lucinda Brand to win in World Cup Hulst on Sunday, while Mathieu van der Poel laid on a masterclass to take his third victory in three days.

Van der Poel powered away from an elite group as early as lap two and went on to win by 1:31 on the windswept Dutch course. Behind him, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock battled for the podium slots, with Van Aert netting second-place.

“I really enjoyed this,” van der Poel said. “There are very few races in the Netherlands so it was nice to have this one – and I had really good legs, which helps.”

The Dutchman’s victory was emphatic and puts a cap on an early-season spell that has landed him eight wins in 11 races. There is now a three-week pause before the next race, the X2O Flandriencross.

Van der Poel played down what the result could mean ahead of the Oostende world championships at the end of January.

“It doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “Last week I was nearly three minutes down behind Van Aert [at Dendermonde] – it’s just the shape of the day that determines the gaps. I’m glad that I could finish my first block of races in this kind of shape.”

Van der Poel was in the lead group out of the start gate and waited just one lap before launching a massive move. The Dutchman rode away from Toon Aerts through lap two to take almost 20 seconds over a chase group that formed made up of Aerts, van Aert and Michael Vanthourenhout.

Having suffered a setback with his first trip to the pits when his mechanic botched a bike change, Van Aert slid out on a greasy bank on lap three to lose the chase group and link up with Tom Pidcock in fourth and fifth positions.

Aerts, Pidcock, Vanthourenhout, and Van Aert came together into a chase group through the following lap as Van der Poel kept the afterburners firing to build a one-minute lead.

Vanthourenhout was able to gain a few seconds over the pursuers when he took advantage of a stumble from Aerts on lap four to go away solo before Van Aert and Pidcock worked as pair to peg him back in lap six.

With van der Poel now nearly 90 seconds ahead, Van Aert began piling on the power in the race for second place, first distancing Vanthourenhout in lap seven and putting Pidcock under pressure as the Brit clung to his wheel.

At the front of the race, van der Poel continued to ride a red-hot tempo, maintaining his leading margin with almost every lap, and heading into the final circuit, the world champion had a 1:23 lead. There was no stopping him from there as he rode to another victory in what has been a dominant start to the ‘cross season.

Van Aert finally shook off Pidcock mid-way through lap nine and continued to push the pace from there to secure second, 18 seconds ahead of the youngster.

Betsema led home an all-Dutch podium. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Betsema took a convincing victory over season standouts Lucinda Brand and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. Betsema was at the front of the race from the start gun and never went back.

“This felt a bit like home,” she said. “With the hills, the wind, and also the cold, I was completely in my element.”

Having ridden to five top-5 finishes in six races since her victory at Scheldecross mid-December, Betsema said the victory was a timely confidence booster ahead of the January 31 world championships.

“This is very motivating,” she said. “I think this proves something, but the Dutch ladies are very close to each other. It will be a very exciting world championships.”

Betsema got off to a hot start, leading the race with Annemarie Worst through the opening laps. Contrastingly, World Cup leader Brand started slow, sitting around 10th in the pack.

Alvarado, Blanka Vas, and Marianne Vos led the pursuit through the opening minutes before Betsema went clear on her own in lap two. Behind her a chase group formed of Brand, Worst, Alvarado, and Vas. Clara Honsinger suffered a setback early in the race, slipping in the pits and losing time.

Having recovered from her slow start, Brand went on the charge in lap four of seven and punched out of the chase group in pursuit of Betsema, who was now around 15 seconds ahead. Honsinger was slowly working her way back through the field to move up to sixth.

A slide from Worst on lap five left Alvarado to move into third. From there, the race for podium positions came down to a series of time trials between Betsema, Brand, Alvarado, and Worst.

Heading into the final lap, Betsema had 40 seconds over Brand, who was being desperately chased down by Alvarado just a handful of seconds off the second-place position.

Betsema stayed cool through the final lap to win by 1:02. Behind her, Brand slipped and fell midway through the final circuit to make for a tense final few minutes as Alvarado looked to snatch second-place. Nonetheless, Brand was able to hold off the world champ to take second, leaving Alvarado in third.

Honsinger finished sixth to continue her strong run through the season so far. Vos took 11th in what was her Jumbo-Visma debut.

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