Enjoy the World Cup Koksijde gallery and race report below. (Word edits by Nicholas Lemke)
At the sand dunes of Koksijde today, both the men’s and women’s elite podiums held one elder and two young riders. On this difficult course, it is relatively rare that the young titans can successfully challenge the dominance of more experienced riders, but this year’s edition could be called ”The race of the next generation.”
As soon as the womens race started, Sanne Cant attacked all out. She had familiar companions in Ellen Van Loy and Sophie de Boer, but this was not business as usual, given the international field in attendance at this World Cup. Number one in the world, Katie Compton may have feared from the start that her race would be poor, given her rumoured troubles with allergies. With a characteristically slow start, she was hindered by traffic and had a minor first lap incident with the barriers. These mistakes combined with an asthma attack relegated her to tenth on the day: a strong result, given the circumstances, and by finishing the race she’s ensured that she is still in contention for the overall title.
While Compton struggled further back, Cant slowly but surely powered away with de Boer, occasionally allowing de Boer to take the lead. Similar to Compton, Nikki Harris had a poor start and bad luck, suffering a flat tyre in the first lap. Koksijde is unforgiving and lesser troubles than a flat tire have ended many a racer’s podium dreams, so Harris was happy to manage fifth by the end of the day.
While Harris worked her way into the top ten, U23 European Champion, Sabrina Stultiens also ascended from tenth to catch de Boer and Cant and even lead the field during the fourth lap. But Cants daredevil attack in the last lap could not be matched and it was clear that Stultiens and de Boer were left with only the race for silver. Stultiens pipped de Boer on the finish line to claim 2nd.
This was Cants first World Cup win and she took over the overall leaders white jersey – another career first.
The clouds were gathering as the mens race was about to start. The World Cup round in Valkenburg’s winner, Lars van der Haar, fought a fever all week, and his doctors denied him a start today at Koksijde. Other young guns, including Mathieu van der Poel, Wout Van Aert and Michael Vanthourenhout stood at the start line with the big boys, as there wasnt an official U23 race on the day.
And it would be the young Van Aert who would lead from the start, only rarely allowing van der Poel a glimpse of the front. Early on, it seemed only Klaas Vantornout would be able to match the young titans, but it was Kevin Pauwels, who ultimately came closest. The duo of Van Aert and van der Poel quickly built a lead of over half a minute. On the fourth lap, Van Aert harnessed the lessons and strength of his team captain, Niels Albert, a multiple-time Koksijde winner, and simply rode away from van der Poel, never looking back. After the race, Van Aert reflected: Today, his experience was very useful. He [Albert] won it at the Worlds and last year, too. He knows how to control the race when you are alone on the front of the race. Thats the difficult part, but you have to hold on. You can only do that by finding the right rhythm – and that worked out perfectly today.[quote text_size=”small” author=”Wout Van Aert”]
I like having goals ahead of me. I have a strict program and I dont like to change it. [ ] Its easy to be good in one race but its not easy to be good at every race.[/quote]
As Van Aert pulled away, Pauwels worked his way up to a fading van der Poel and managed to open a 12 second gap over the young pretender. Van Aert, in the meantime, rode unimpeded to his first elite World Cup win and even had time to think of a special celebration.[quote text_size=”small” author=”Wout Van Aert”]
I live in the same town as Paul Herygers, who did it [jumping off the bike for a few paces before remounting and winning the race] for the first time in 1994, last year Niels did the same. He asked me to do something special. In the last two laps, I was thinking I had to do something special, something i can do for him – I think it was beautiful to cross the finish line like that.[/quote]
The overall jersey is now on the shoulders of Pauwels (140 pts), who leads Tom Meeusen and Vantornout (both on 115 pts), but Corne van Kessel is also close with 113 pts. With four more races to go, the World Cup is still wide open.