A wet and grey Oostende in Belgium was the perfect scene for the 2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. Mud, sand and unsettled beach shores all contributed to a gritty and hard-fought showcase of cyclo-cross.
Despite the Belgian setting, it would be a weekend for the Dutch who came away with the clean sweep, taking Gold in all four races.
Sunday's Men's Elite race saw yet another chapter written in the unrelenting rivalry between Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. The duo entered as the two heavy favourites, having dominated the race in recent times. With three jerseys apiece, the winner would claim bragging rights on their adversary.
The two riders were well clear of the field after just one lap, when a mistake on the sand section cost Van der Poel some time. The Dutchman then took a tumble after getting caught in a rut, causing him both further time loss to Van Aert and some blushes.
However, the tables would quickly turn on lap three, when Van der Poel suddenly closed and passed Van Aert at an alarmingly fast rate. It became apparent that this was due to a puncture for Van Aert, who was able to swiftly swap bikes, but the pendulum had already swung back in the Dutchman's favour.
The race would stay close for a few laps, but Van Aert slowly faded, perhaps disheartened by his unfortunate mechanical. Van der Poel would win by over 30 seconds, earning his fourth rainbow jersey.
Britain’s Tom Pidcock was disappointed to come away with fourth place, missing out on a medal to Belgium’s Toon Aerts despite a late surge. Sunday’s event was also a landmark for Pidcock – it was his last race before officially joining INEOS Grenadier. He now turns his focus to the road season which could kick-off at Omloop het Nieuwsblad.
In the Women’s Elite category, Denise Betsema took an early lead for the Netherlands, with Lucinda Brand and Annemarie Worst chasing her down. The three women were neck-and-neck entering the final lap, but the main talking point came when Brand took the inside line attempting to overtake Worst on the final lap – a move which saw Worst hit the deck. An unfortunate way to decide an otherwise enthralling race.
Fem van Empel and Pim Ronhaar won the Women's and Men's U23 races, respectively.
On the ground for Rouleur was photographer Joris Knapen.