He started the race billed as one of the top favourites, crashed once in the warm-up, almost fell a second time when his shoulder collided with a fence post early on and lost more time when a mechanic’s cloth became entangled in his gear mechanism. But Wout van Aert romped to a stunning win at the UCI cyclo-cross World Cup in Dublin on Sunday.
The Belgian is a three-time world champion in the discipline. He is also one of the most accomplished road race competitors in the sport, winning nine career stages in the Tour de France plus this year’s green jersey. That strength was to the fore again at the Sport Ireland campus course, with Van Aert shrugging off those two race incidents to blitz his competitors in the sandpit section on the penultimate lap.
Powering clear there and on the following hill, he steadily gained time and reached the finish 14 seconds clear of fellow Belgian Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) and 17 in front of world champion Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers).
“I kept quite calm,” he said, speaking about the moment his gears were jammed. “It was also because they were not really full-on attacking in the front. Quite soon after I realised I still had the chance. It’s always important to keep calm in cross because anything can happen.”
Like the eight other Irish riders in the race, national under-23 road race champion Dean Harvey knew beforehand that the regular World Cup competitors would be a level above. So it proved, the 19-year-old finishing more than six minutes back, building vital experience for future years.
The event was the first time a cyclo-cross World Cup was held in Ireland and it attracted a crowd of 8,000 spectators. Race organisers Flanders Classics worked with Sport Ireland and Cycling Ireland to run the event and hailed the turnout, saying that ticket sales were comparable to the World Cups held on the continent.
Women’s race winner Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) hailed those crowds after her victory, during which saw a race-long to and fro battle with Puck Pieterse (Plantur Pura) finally come down to a last lap move and what was a two-second-winning-advantage. Their fellow Dutch woman Denis Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) was third, one minute 37 seconds back.
“The crowd was really great today,” said the World Cup overall leader. “Especially the last couple of corners, there were a lot of people standing there. It was really great to ride here and the atmosphere was so nice today. It was a bit tactical to overtake Puck at the last part of the race. It was all or nothing for the win and I’m very happy to take the victory here.”
Irish national champion Maria Larkin was best of the nine home riders, taking a solid 20th place. She too will have relished the crowds and the atmosphere, as well as a testing course made a little more demanding by thick mud and near-zero temperatures. Battling the elements is a big part of cyclo-cross, and things worked out perfectly in that regard.
UCI cyclo-cross World Cup, Sport Ireland Campus, Dublin:
Elite men: 1 Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 59′36″, 2 L Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) 14″, 3 T Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) 17″, 4 L van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions) 19″, 5 M Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) 22″ Irish: 26 D Harvey (Team Ireland) 6′54″, 29 D Moore (Team Ireland) 8′36″, 30 C Dawson (Team Ireland) at 1 lap, 31 S Nolan (EvoPro Racing), 32 J Meehan (Spellman Dublin Port), 33 D Corkery (Verge-Pi Cycles), 34 R Barry (St Finbarr’s CC), 35 D McCarter (Spellman Dublin Port), 36 F McDermott (Oldcastle CC)
Elite women: 1 Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) 47 mins 13, 2 P Pieterse (Plantur Pura) 2″, 3 D Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) 1′37″, 4 I Van der Heijden (777), 2′26″, 5 M Schreiber (Tormans Cyclo Cross Team), 2′27″ Irish: 20 Maria Larkin (Team Ireland), at 1 lap, 23 R Lally (Team Ireland), 24 A Doherty (VC Glendale), 25 H McClorey (RFDA), 26 C May (Orwell Wheelers), 27 S Roche (Scott Bright Motor Group), 28 M Geoghegan (VeloRevolution), 29 N Stephens (Team Giant Dublin), 30 A Roche (Scott Bright Motor Group)
Junior men (non-World Cup event): 1 Oli Akers (Garden Shed-Ribble-Verge), 2 S Grindley (Garden Shed-Ribble-Verge) 33″, 3 L O’Brien (Fermoy CC) 59″, 4 J Mullen (Navan RC) 1′50″, 5 O Ferrity (Island Wheelers) 2′37″, 6 T Harkness (VC Glendale) 2′57″
Junior women (non-World Cup event): 1 Katie Reilly (Orwell Wheelers), 2 E Wallace (Harps CCC) 50″,3 Z Lindsay (TC Racing) 3′25″, 4 H Hayes (Comeragh CC) 4′5″, 5 C Bennett (Comeragh CC) 6′42″
Saturday: UCI World Cup Support Races, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown
Senior Men: 1 Eoin Ahern (Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) 42′18.14, 2 E Downey (Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) 2′0.8, 3 F Doherty (Killarney Cycling Club) 4′22.2, 4 S O’Leary (IMBRC) 4′50.7, 5 R Flannery (St Tiernans Cycling Club) 6′44.4
Senior Women: 1 Aoife Reilly (Dunboyne Cycling Club) 37′13.43, 2 D Killeen (Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) 5′01.5, 3 J Wilson (Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) 5′56.2, 4 S Drennan (Midleton CTC) 6′58.1, 5 E Kent (Arcane Cycling Team) 7′43.4Masters 40: 1 Glenn Kinning (Kinning Cycles CC) 38′47.11, 2 A Bingham (Newry Wheelers CC) 36.3, 3 M Flavin (Dungarvan CC) 3′24.7, 4 R Killeen (Lucan Cycling Road Club) 4′39.5, 5 S McKenna (Omagh Wheelers Cycling Club) 6′14.7
Masters 50: 1 Des Woods (Newry Wheelers CC) 42′25.20, 2 J Henry (Inspired Cycling) 1′41.4, 3 F Regan (Kilcullen Cycling Club Murphy Geospacial) 2′47.6, 4 G O’Donnell (IMBRC) 3′09.6, 5 M Jordan (CSS Tallaght Wheelers) 3′56.1
Masters 60: 1 Johnny McCabe (Cuchulainn CC) 50′8.67, 2 P Birchall (Verge Sport PI Cycles) 1 lap, 3 E Byrd (Dublin Wheelers) 1 lap, 4 T O’Neill (EPIC MTB/Expert Cycles) 1 lap
Girls U16: 1 Aliyah Rafferty (Island Wheelers) 34′44.99, 2 G Lawless (Team WORC) 5.6, 3 R Dolan (Cuchulainn CC) 2′33.6, 4 F Robinson (Bray Wheelers) 3′29.4, 5 A Sharkey (VC Glendale) 4′49.9
Boys U16: 1 Conor Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) 28′10.19, 2 C McKee (Scott Bright Motor Group) 1′44.7, 3 D Gaffney (Dungarvan CC) 2′9.2, 4 C Henry (Inspired Cycling) 2′20.3, 5 J Woods (Carlow RCC) 2′36.4
Girls U14: 1 Emer Heverin (Kinning Cycles Cycling Club) 36′15.70, 2 A Charlesworth (unattached) 1′35.5, 3 A Craig (VC Glendale) 3′0.9, 4 C Quigley (Foyle CC) 4′1.2, 5 K Turner (Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) 1 lap
Boys U14: 1 Rian McCrystal (Bellurgan Wheelers) 32′11.62, 2 C McGreevy (VC Glendale) 42.3, 3 J McClune (Team Madigan CC) 2′54.5, 4 S O’Brien (Fermoy Cycling Club) 3′53.2, 5 D Killeen (Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) 4′16.2