EVEN WOUT VAN AERT CAN LOSE HIS NERVE
Wout van Aert is a rider that’s often seemed infallible at times. That’s certainly the impression you’d arrive at after watching him win a plethora of Tour de France stages across the years, and all from different scenarios.
However, even the sportsmen and women at the absolute top of their discipline are always going to find occasions where they seemingly come unstuck.
Throughout his cyclo-cross campaign, Van Aert has arguably held the upper hand over his long standing rival, Mathieu van der Poel, picking up a variety of wins where in the closing stages he’d had the cutting edge to land a victory.
However, the manner in his defeat to Van der Poel last weekend saw many comparisons drawn with the style in which he lost the 2020 Tour of Flanders to the Dutchman, proving that even the seemingly most consistent, most successful athletes can be prone to losing their nerve on the biggest of stages.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR BRITISH CX
With the absence of the reigning elite men’s World Champion, Tom Pidcock, from the start list in Hoogerheide, it may have appeared that there was a distinct lack of high flying British talent capable of threatening Van Aert and Van der Poel and the podium positions.
Due to their sheer power, physicality and wider road experience, that may well be the case with only Pidcock realistically being able to match them. Although if you look at the wider picture from across the weekend, British cyclo-cross is in a stronger position than it may initially seem.
The mixed-relay team took a stunning silver medal in Friday’s race, pushing the Dutch squad all the way for the win with the whole relay team possessing an abundance of talent in their own right.
In the elite men’s race, current British national champion, Cameron Mason also earned a more than respectable ninth with another British star, Thomas Mein, taking 14th.
Even with no Pidcock, the kids are still alright.
ZOE BÄCKSTEDT IS FAR FROM A ONE HIT WONDER ON THE WORLD STAGE
In Zoe Bäckstedt, Great Britain possesses one of the most exciting young riders in the sport with everything pointing to her becoming an astronomical star in the future.
After taking the female elite national title just a few weeks ago, Backstedt’s impressive silver in the under 23 women’s race could just be the start of a dominant few years on the CX scene for GB. If her current form is anything to go by, then you wouldn’t bet against her stepping up to the elite category in the not too distant future and comfortably challenging for the podium there.
Now that the drama of the Netherlands is out of the way, the 18-year-old will briefly reset before re-joining her trade team on the road for a debut campaign as a professional with EF Education-Tibco- SVB.
Bäckstedt is likely to target Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race which she previously told Cycling Weekly she is “so ready” for. The 18-year-old oozes confidence, and backed by the coaching of Emma Trott, expect to see Bäckstedt continue her rise to stardom in the months ahead.
TRASH TALK GETS YOU NOWHERE
Before they had lined up on the start line in Hoogerheide, all of the noise coming from Van Aert and the Belgian camp was that winning the world title “did little” for the Jumbo-Visma man’s palmares and meant “nothing” to him.
We’ll never know how much of that he really genuinely believed, or whether it was some kind of deliberate ploy to get inside Van der Poel’s head and affect his performance.
If it was indeed the latter, then it spectacularly backfired on the Belgian as once the race got underway, there was only going to be one winner, with the Dutchman absolutely hell bent on taking the honours on a route which held special significance to him given that Hoogerheide holds many personal connections to the Van der Poel family. An example being that his father, Adrie, was born in a village close by.
Perhaps based on this situation, Van Aert will have learned not to be quite so vocal beforehand, and instead let his racing do the talking. Playing the race down in such a way only came across as egotistical and arguably disrespectful to the discipline.
WHATEVER YOU CAN DO, WE CAN DO BETTER
Before the weekend began, it was already rumoured that the event organisers had sold more than 30,000 tickets for the occasion, and the crowds were indeed absolutely huge with the noise they generated even bigger.
Traditionally, cyclo-cross’s home has been in the mud of Flanders, although the Dutch took that on board and said ‘anything you can do, we can do better’.
With them being roared on by crowds of that size, it then generated a feeling of inevitability that Fem van Empel and Mathieu van der Poel would go home with both of the rainbow jerseys in the elite category.