Sweeck and Alvarado win Superprestige Merksplas as Pidcock settles for seventh

Reigning world champion Tom Pidcock satisfied with season restart on mucky, sand-packed course: 'I'm happy, it was not bad.'

Photo: BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

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Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) kick-started a full weekend of cyclocross racing with victories on a sandy, muddy course in Superprestige Merksplas.

Sweeck continued his winning momentum with a strong solo that held off the chase by Lars van der Haar (Baloise-Trek Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who finished second- and third-place respectively.

The former Belgian champ Sweeck has been on a tear this winter with a first World Cup victory in Maasmechelen making way for a hat trick of wins in the past eight days.

“My race wasn’t completely clear, but that wasn’t the case with anyone,” he said after his fourth victory of the season Saturday. “I was able to make the difference in the beginning because nobody really came up and that played in my favor afterward. I’m still not 100 percent, but very good.”

Pidcock flashed rainbows for the first time after winning the worlds title in Fayetteville.

Reigning world champion Tom Pidcock finished seventh in the men’s race after he occupied the pre-race spotlight ahead of his rainbow jersey debut.

Pidcock had previously suggested he’d be off the pace in his first ‘crosses of the season and later rued choosing the technical Merksplas course for his winter restart.

“It wasn’t the best one to start with. The corners I was losing so much time. My level was OK, but I was losing time in a lot of places,” Pidcock said.

“There were a few too many mistakes, but I’m happy, it was not bad.  To win in this jersey this season would be nice. It was good [to wear the rainbow jersey for the first time]. The public was quite supportive – it was nice even though I wasn’t in the front.”

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Alvarado continues to come back to best

Alvarado won for the second time in eight days.

Alvarado stomped to solo victory in the women’s race as the Dutch star continues to refind her winning groove.

The 2019-20 world champion topped the podium over Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Inge van der Heijden (777) after blasting clear from Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) in the opening lap of the arduous Belgian circuit.

“It certainly wasn’t easy today, even though it seemed that way,” Alvarado said after the race. “I had to keep pushing on a very tough lap. I was a bit lucky with Marianne Vos’ good leadout. She dropped back and I got a clear course.”

The victory is Alvarado’s second in two weeks after she suffered a season out of the winner’s circle last winter.

“You don’t forget winning,” she said. “That was very special, now I’m getting form. The shape is good, so you expect a few things to come.”

Young sensation Zoe Bäckstedt finished fifth while EF Education-TIBCO-SVB teammate and U.S. champion Clara Honsinger finished ninth. None of recent standouts Fem van Empel, Puck Pieterse or Shirin van Anrooij were racing.

Cyclocross racing continues Sunday at the World Cup round in Overijse.

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