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Gallery: Sea, sand but no sun at the Cyclocross World Championships

In-depth
1 Feb 2021
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Dutch dominance and the continuation of the Van der Poel/Van Aert show headline the weekend's racing in Oostende

Words: Joe Robinson Photography: SWPix

It was double-double Dutch doubled at the Cyclocross World Championships this weekend. Four races, all four won by a Dutch rider.

In fact, of the 12 podium spots up for grabs in Oostende, Belgium last weekend, eight were occupied by those in the oranje of the Netherlands, a bitter pill for their Belgian neighbours to swallow no doubt.

A ‘flying’ Pin Ronhaar took the honours in the Under 23 men’s race while Fem van Empel – an 18-year-old who only swapped from football to 'cross last year – won the women’s equivalent. After years of trying, Lucinda Brand finally became the elite women’s World Champion while after years of dominance, Mathieu van der Poel made it three rainbow jerseys in a row.

The canvas for these Dutch victories was a spectacle to behold. The setting was the humdrum Oostende seaside in winter. A bit like a Flemish Broadstairs, golden sandy beaches meet meek grey skies and a weathered 1970s seafront. The winding course swapped muddy grass tracks for steep bridges before descending down onto the beach and at one point actually into the North Sea. Our thoughts are with the riders' mechanics.

The Oostende course was the ultimate setting for the ultimate cyclocross showdown. Or at least it should have been.

It’s just the headline set, the men’s elite race, failed to live up to its billing. Rather than a titanic battle on the beach, it was a two-way scuffle that quickly became a one-man show.

You see, men’s cyclocross is experiencing an unexplained phenomenon right now, something that would even get Mulder and Scully guessing. That phenomenon is Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.

Two men, born four months and only about 40km apart, are looking on track to become among the greatest cyclists we have ever seen. They are simply a step above everybody else right now. For almost a decade, they have swapped the cyclocross rainbow jersey and have been the only realistic threat to one another's success. When they are at their best, nobody can compete with either Van der Poel or Van Aert. Plenty try and some, like Toon Aerts and Tom Pidcock, even sometimes even get close.

But in reality, men’s cyclocross has been a Van der Poel/Van Aert double act for the past seven years and will continue to be that way until one or both decide they have had enough.

Gallery: Highlights from all four races at the Cyclocross World Championships