Wout van Aert makes huge pre-worlds statement over Mathieu van der Poel in sandy Zonhoven

Shirin van Anrooij delivers masterclass on notoriously tough sandy circuit to top fellow Gen-Z sensations Pieterse, Van Empel.

Photo: Matthias Ekman

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Wout van Aert delivered a huge pre-world championship statement over archrival Mathieu van der Poel in the Zonhoven stop of the UCI World Cup series.

Van Aert was faultless in the notoriously tough sandpits of the Belgian circuit Sunday to deliver a minute-plus victory over Van der Poel and claim his eighth win in 11 races.

“It was definitely a hard hike,” Van Aert joked at the finish.

Both Van Aert and Van der Poel now take a break to join team road camps, with the Belgian a clear favorite for the February world championships after winning five of their eight head-to-heads this winter.

Van Aert’s advantage is only extended now Van der Poel is again suffering back problems.

“It’s not going the way I would like it,” Van der Poel admitted. “My back is hurting again and it’s a bit frustrating.

“It’s hard to focus when I’m thinking my back is hurting. You have to be 100 percent focused on the course and I’m just not able to be. I can do maybe a half lap at the pace I want, but I then have to hold back because of the pain.”

Van Aert and Nan der Poel will both race a handful more times later this month before the Hoogerheide race on February 5.

Shirin van Anrooij was similarly supreme in the infamous descents and deep sand of Zonhoven’s “De Kuil”.

The 20-year-old sensation scored her fifth win in six races to top a podium of Gen-Z talents, with Puck Pieterse in second and Fem van Empel third.

Wout van Aert supreme with huge solo

Wout van Aert carried the momentum out of his victory in Gullegem on Saturday and added even more watts with a supreme victory Sunday.

The Jumbo-Visma megastar kicked away early in the race and barely looked back in a near-inch-perfect performance on one of the most technical courses on the calendar.

Van Aert got the first advantage over the in-pain Van der Poel when he pulled clear through a tricky off-camber in lap one only for the Dutchman to make contact and try to take control in the third circuit.

Van der Poel was applying the pressure in lap three only to be sent over his bars in a section of deep sand, giving Van Aert the room to move. Once Van Aert got the gap, it was game over for his rivals as he went on to deliver another demonstration of dominance.

“I was able to benefit from the mistakes Mathieu made. He suddenly fell in front of me and then I was able to make a big gap. The lead surprised me a bit,” Van Aert said.

“Now it is important for me to rest well, tomorrow I will leave on a camp with the team. I need miles in the sun to get that real acceleration back.”

Van der Poel suffered two small crashes in the opening laps, and they made a big difference. (Photo: Matthias Ekman)

Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) were locked at each other’s wheel through the race as they battled for the series lead.

The two specialists bridged across to the chasing Van der Poel in the middle of the ‘cross only for the multiple world champion to charge away from them in lap six of eight.

Van der Poel finished disconsolate in second while Sweeck won the race for third to pad his narrow lead over Vanthourenhout in the World Cup standings.

Neither Tom Pidcock nor Eli Iserbyt were racing.

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Shirin van Anrooij conquers ‘De Kuil’

Puck Pieterse made it five from six in Zonhoven. (Photo: Matthias Ekman)

Shirin van Anrooij made her case for a “sand specialist” stamp with dominant victory Sunday.

The Baloise Trek Lions rider conquered the tough sandy course to back up her victory on the similarly notorious sand circuit of Koksijde earlier in the week.

Van Anrooij stayed upright through the testing early laps while her rivals bit the sand, giving her a winning gap she never looked likely to lose.

“It wasn’t easy, but I had a really good feeling, and I had control over the lap and didn’t really make any mistakes,” she asid at the finish. “I was just in a really good flow, and the sand was really nice to ride through.”

Van Anrooij had been equally assured in the sand when she beat back Van Empel in Koksijde.

“I didn’t expect [such a dominant victory Sunday], but I knew it was possible,” Van Anrooij said. “After Koksijde I knew I just had to trust in the sand, and I knew the power bits uphill would also suit me. But I did not expect to go solo after the first lap.”

Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was chasing van Anrooij nearly all race after the Trek rider went clear in the opening of six laps. Pieterse ended up second, 37 seconds back.

World Cup series leader Fem van Empel stayed cool after she suffered a disaster start.

Three crashes in the first two laps put the Jumbo-Visma star way back in around 20th and seemingly out of the race, but the 20-year-old patiently and powerfully worked through the traffic to fill out the podium and retain her lead in the standings.

World champion Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) finished 12th as she continues to make her ‘cross come back after a six-week break.

The World Cup series wraps up in the final weekends of this month with races in Benidorm, Spain, and Besançon, France.

Results powered by FirstCycling.com


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