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It was a banner day for reigning cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice), who extended his DVV Trophy series lead with a win at Azencross Loenhout in foggy conditions over rivals Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) in Antwerp, Belgium on Thursday.
However, all eyes were on previous world champ Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon), who was stretchered off the course following a nasty crash with less than two laps to go.
The 21-year-old Dutchman, who has blistered the 2016/2017 cyclo-cross season with three UCI World Cup wins and five Superprestige victories, shook off a bad start to take the lead early in the race before surrendering to van Aert and ultimately paying a heavy price to remain in contention.
Van der Poel remained motionless on the ground following a nasty spill at the bottom of a descent, and would eventually be fitted with a neck brace and carted off on a stretcher after remaining motionless for several minutes.
After being rushed to the hospital, a recovering van der Poel took to social media to explain the incident and show appreciation for all the positive support.
While van der Poel accepted onus for the fall, Meeusen also shared in the responsibility.
“I want to apologize to Mathieu,” stated Meeusen. “I wanted to offer a gap to Toon. Mathieu passed me at such a high speed that I was surprised. Of course Mathieu wanted to get between Toon and myself, that’s why he flew over the climb.”
Like van der Poel, van Aert had a bad start, but the Belgian battled back quickly over slippery terrain to claim space at the front even after van der Poel held a 50-metre lead midway through the race. After fierce racing between race leaders, including van der Poel, Pauwels, Toon Aerts (Telenet–Fidea), Michael Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Napolean Games) and Corné Van Kessel (Telenet–Fidea), van Aert was able to overcome a tumble with Meeusen and ride away on the final lap for the win.
The next race in the Trophy DVV Trophy is on New Year’s Day in Baal. With two races to go, van Aert holds a 2 minute 39 second lead over Pauwels and 3:33 over Vanthourenhout. Van der Poel is in 10th (+13:02).
- 1. Wout VAN AERT, (BEL), 1:01:33
- 2. Tom MEEUSEN, (BEL), +0:02
- 3. Kevin PAUWELS, (BEL), +0:03
- 4. Toon AERTS, (BEL), +0:06
- 5. Michael VANTHOURENHOUT, (BEL), +0:11
- 6. Corne VAN KESSEL, (NED), +0:22
- 7. Clement VENTURINI, (FRA), +0:41
- 8. Jens ADAMS, (BEL), +0:55
- 9. Jim AERNOUTS, (BEL), +1:01
- 10. Tim MERLIER, (BEL), +1:12