World Cup cyclocross: Mathieu van der Poel powers to victory in clash of ‘Big Three’

Van der Poel surges clear in the opening laps and keeps Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock at bay in Antwerp battle through the sand.

Photo: DAVID PINTENS/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

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Mathieu van der Poel floated through the sandpits in Antwerp to power to victory Sunday in the hyped battle of the “Big Three” at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup.

The season’s first cyclocross clash between Van der Poel, Wout Van Aert and world champion Tom Pidcock did not disappoint.

Van Aert blasted out of the gates early in his 2022-23 cyclocross season debut, but Van der Poel revealed he’s in top form despite crashing in Saturday’s Superprestige race.

“I felt OK despite the crash Saturday, and it didn’t bother me too much during the race,” Van der Poel said. “I cannot recall making a mistake today. It was a pretty OK race. I felt good. I was able to get a good gap and maintain it, so I am pretty happy with today. I think it’s going to be a few really nice races in the busy period between all of us.”

The Dutch star powered to his 29th career World Cup victory after countering Van Aert in the opening laps.

Pidcock struggled with positioning early, and never was in the frame for victory to finish in the top-10.

Van Aert was strong in the early and middle laps, especially when he powered through Antwerp’s famous sand sectors. Van der Poel kept ticking away and took the lead by lap two of seven, and never looked back.

Van Aert finished a solid second despite crashing late. Michael Vanthourenhout held on in a tight fight for the podium with third.

Pidcock stuck in traffic, Van Aert wobbly in the chase

Van Aert started fast, but couldn’t counter Van der Poel late. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Van Aert pounced early in the opening lap in his high-profile cyclocross season debut, with Van der Poel lurking in the top-5 as the bunch powered toward the first sand sectors.

Pidcock was lost in traffic after getting kicked out of the back of the pack and out of the top-20. The reigning world champion could never recover enough positions despite doggedly pushing on, and was never a factor for the win.

Van der Poel showed no signs of the crash in Saturday’s Superprestige race when he slid out on some cobbles and landed heavily on his left knee and shoulder. The Dutchman shook out the cobwebs, and surged to the lead by lap 2.

Van Aert tried to keep it close, and kept him close to just 13 seconds after coming through the sand sectors in lap 3.

But as the race unwound, Van Aert couldn’t match Van der Poel, and looked wobbly in some of the technical sectors in the sand. In lap 6, Van Aert misjudged a plank, and crashed over his handlebars, and entered the bell lap at 29 seconds back.

Van der Poel powered home alone to take his second big win in three starts this season. In the first clash of the “Big Three,” “MvdP” draws first honors.

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