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Natural hat trick: Wout Van Aert earns third consecutive world cyclocross title

Best ever elite result for Canadian champ van den Ham at 34th

Like his elite women compatriot Sanne Cant on Saturday, Belgian Wout Van Aert repeated as world cyclocross champion, steamrolling the elite men’s field on Sunday in Valkenburg, the Netherlands. Winning his third rainbow jersey in a row was a fine end to Van Aert’s season following some disappointing results; however, after a season of domination with 26-wins, Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel was unable to deliver at home, taking the bronze. Canadian champ Michael van den Ham achieved his highest elite world championship placing at 34th.

The 2.9-km course was a very muddy one, with an early trip journey through a forest, plenty of climbing, a long run-up and sloppy descents, off-camber and otherwise. The day was cold, with a little snow.

The Under-23 Men’s Race
The penultimate contest of the 2018 world championships was touted as a skirmish between reigning junior champ and World Cup U23 titlist Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) and Belgian Thijs Aerts, the World Cup runner-up. But it was Aerts’s compatriot Eli Iserby taking the rainbow jersey, with last season’s champion Joris Nieuwenhaus, the race’s early leader, finishing 28-seconds behind and Yan Gras giving France its first medal with a bronze. Nicholas Diniz, Canada’s sole entrant in the race, finished 45th. The highly touted Pidcock was 15th.

The Elite Men’s Race
Van der Poel was the big favourite after his domination of the World Cup and DVV Trofee series. The Dutch fans were buzzing, having scored medals in the first four races in Valkenburg. But so far, gold had gone only to Belgium and Great Britain.

Canada had two fellows in the mix of 57: van den Ham and Mark McConnell.

Lars van der Haar (The Netherlands) and Tim Merlier (Belgium) led the pack early. But 2:30 into the race van der Poel powered to the front. Reigning champion Wout Van Aert took over second spot. Six Belgians and an American were van der Poel’s closest pursuers. Soon it was van der Poel, Van Aert and Belgian Michael Vanthourenhout far head of the others, with Van Aert riding what his Dutch rival had to run. Lap 1 was 9:46, Vanthourenhout a little behind the others.

Van den Ham was 39th after one lap and McConnell 45th.

Van Aert was able to use van der Poel’s mistakes to take a gap on Lap 2. Vanthourenhout found the Dutchman’s wheel. Van Aert enjoyed a 25-second gap after two of seven circuits. Van Aert kept pulling out the gap, seizing a minute after Lap 3. Van der Poel had to keep a close eye on silver aspirant Vanthourenhout, the 2015 U23 world champion.

After three laps van den Ham was 30th and McConnell 52nd.

Van Aert was master of the course, pulling our almost two-minutes after Lap 4.

On Lap 5, Vanthourenhout gave van der Poel the slip, riding what Dutchman ran. Van Aert continued to be as commanding on the day as van der Poel was all season, entering the bell lap 2:20 ahead of Vanthourenhout. Behind, another Belgian, Toon Aerts, starting to pull back van der Poel.

Aerts’ presence seemed to awaken van der Poel, who attacked to ensure that the Dutch crowd got a medal in all five weekend races. The Belgians won three of the five titles.

Van den Ham’s 34th place is an improvement on 38th last year and 45th in 2016.

2018 UCI World Cyclocross Championships–Elite Men

Gold) Wout Van Aert (Belgium) 1:09:00
Silver) Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) +2:13
Bronze) Mathieu van der Poel (The Netherlands) +2:30
34) Michael van den Ham (Canada)
51) Mark McConnell (Canada)