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Battling a fractured big toe, an early drivetrain issue, and stifling heat and humidity, world champion Wout Van Aert took a solo victory at the second round of the Telenet UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Iowa City Saturday.
Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice), who also took a come-from-behind World Cup victory on Wednesday in Las Vegas after clipping a toe and crashing on a staircase run-up, dropped back to around 20th place on the second of eight laps after stopping to remove a piece of wood lodged in his rear derailleur.
The world champion then methodically worked his way back through the field, finally passing race leader Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus) on lap 6, with over two laps remaining.
Van Aert only increased his lead from there, winning by 38 seconds over Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games), with Sweeck in third, 55 seconds back.
With the victory, Van Aert completed an impressive U.S. hat-trick, taking wins over the past week in Wisconsin, Las Vegas, and now Iowa City. He also takes a commanding lead in the World Cup standings, the prestigious series he won last year in addition to the rainbow jersey of world champion.
“I didn’t expect this,” Van Aert said. “The last few days were hectic. In the beginning of the race, there was a piece of wood in my rear derailleur, and I ended up in the back. Afterwards, I rode my own pace, and I saw directly that I was making good lap times, and coming back to the front. In the end, I was suffering all over my entire body.
In the women’s race, U.S. national champion Katie Compton (KFC Racing-Trek-Panache) also soloed to victory, after the only rider capable of going clear with her, Katerina Nash (Clif Bar), suffered a broken rear derailleur on the second of four laps. It was the 23rd career World Cup victory and 111th UCI win for the 12-time U.S. national champion, and her first World Cup win in the United States.
VAN AERT UNSTOPPABLE
Conditions — drying mud, temperatures in the mid-80s, and humidity at 95% — were such that many men raced with water bottles on their frames, their jerseys fully unzipped.
The pro men raced eight laps, with Telenet-Fidea riders Toon Aerts, Jim Aernouts, Quinten Hermans, Tom Meesuen, and Corné van Kessel all showing their black-and-yellow jerseys at the front of the race. Aerts led the first lap, with Van Aert sitting eighth.
Van Aert had a mechanical issue on the second lap, forcing him to dismount and pull a piece of wood from his drivetrain. And though he didn’t lose much time, he did lose positions, about a dozen spots.
At the front, Aerts and Michael Vanthourenhout opened up a small gap over Meesuen, Sweeck, van Kessel, Gianni Vermeersch (Steylaerts-Verona), Aerts, Aernouts, Van Aert, Julien Taramarcaz (ERA-Circus), Pauwels, and Dieter Vanthourenhout.
Halfway through the race, Sweeck and Vanthourenhout were at the front, holding a short gap over Hermans and Van Aert. Sweeck went clear, opening a 10-second gap, but near the end of the sixth gap the world champion caught, and quickly passed, the ERA-Circus rider.
From there, it was a race for second Pauwels, who was sitting seventh halfway through the race, passed Sweeck on the final lap to finish second, 39 seconds back.
Van Aert crossed the finish line triumphant, covered in mud, but with a pained expression on his face.
“My toe was okay,” Van Aert said. “The pain was under control. I could give my all. Really, the problems were with my back, and the heat. It was a race with hard circumstances. It’s a big win, I want to thank everyone who supported me in this preparation. I also want to thank the crowd. It was amazing. I’ve never seen so many people cheering. There were not as many people as we’re used to in Belgium, but the people who were here made a lot of noise.”
Van Aert, who was pictured wearing a foot splint and sitting in a wheelchair at the Las Vegas airport on Thursday morning, said his toe injury gave him the most trouble not while pedaling, but when running over the barriers.
“You come into the barriers at high speed, and then your foot goes directly on the ground,” Van Aert said. “It was always a lot of pain in the foot, in the beginning of the race I felt it a lot. But afterward, the pain in my legs was harder than in my toe. We did a good job with our staff, taping the toe, and taking painkillers. I’m afraid for tomorrow, I think the pain will really come out, but it was worth it.”
In the end, eight of the top 10 finishers, and 15 of the top 20, were Belgians. American Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) was the top American, and put in his best-ever international result, finishing 10th.
Van Aert was effusive in his praise for the early season U.S. swing of cyclocross races.
“I hope we can do this again next year,” he said. “I did three races, but I hope next year to stay even longer, maybe for two weeks, and do a few more races. It was an awesome idea to race here, and I think the other [European] guys here will say the same.”
COMPTON IN COMMAND
In the women’s race Compton and Nash quickly opened a gap over Mani and Antonneau before the Clif Bar rider suffered a broken rear derailleur on the second of four laps.
Nash was forced to run, and though the incident took place close to the mechanical assistance pits, the lost time and effort spent ended her podium contention; she would finish fourth, behind Caroline Mani (Raleigh-Clement) and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com).
For the final two laps, Compton held a comfortable solo lead over the hilly course, winning by 18 seconds over Mani, and 23 seconds over Antonneau.
“After Katerina had the mechanical, I knew I had to keep the pressure on, because I knew Caroline was back there, I knew Katie was back there” Compton said. “Climbing is not what I’m really good at. I’m a power climber, but I managed well. I rode smooth. I made a couple of mistakes, but not too bad.”
The women’s race was unusually short — just 37 minutes for the leaders, in what should have been an hourlong race.
The reason, according to UCI official Beat Wabel, is that race officials misjudged the pacing after the first lap; as the muddy course dried out, lap times grew faster. By that point, however, officials had already instructed competitors that it would be a four-lap race, and could not adjust, mid-race, to include an additional lap. However, given the conditions, there wasn’t much complaint from competitors.
“I definitely struggled with the heat,” Compton said. “I was kind of glad they ran us a little short. Initially, I came through with one lap to go, and thought, ‘we’re running short.’ But with a half a lap to go, I thought, ‘no, this is okay.’ It’s just so hot, and you’re not drinking. We’re all suffering out there the same, but I struggle a little bit, toward the end of races that are warm. Technically, I think we should have done one more lap, but today, I was glad we didn’t.”
With Mani in second and Antonneau in third, it was an all Colorado Springs podium, as all three riders reside near one another.
“My first lap wasn’t as fast as the others, I think I was out of the top 10,” Antonneau said. “Toward the end of the last lap, I got into my rhythm, and got going. These are the types of courses I excel at, and like to do. I’m really happy to finish on the podium, here in the U.S., in front of friends and family. It’s so fun to be up there with Caroline and Katie, we all live in Colorado Springs, and they are my friends. It was very cool.”
With the victory, on top of her third-place finish in Las Vegas, Compton takes the World Cup series lead. However after the race she said a third career World Cup title wouldn’t be an objective this season.
“I’m not going for the overall title. I’ll do the Hoogerheide and Koksijde World Cups, but I will miss the Christmas week of racing,” Compton said. “It will be a little different this year, but I hope to be good for worlds.”
Noticeably absent from the top 10 was European champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BeoBank), the two-time and defending World Cup series champion, who finished a disappointing 13th after a subpar ninth-place finish in Las Vegas.
Also missing from the podium was Sophie de Boer, winner of the World Cup opener in Las Vegas, who took the holeshot on the lead lap but finished seventh, 1:35 down. However with Compton skipping the next stop on the UCI World Cup, in Valkenburg, Netherlands, on October 23, de Boer could once again don the leader’s jersey.
“I never race in this heat, not even in the summer,” de Boer said. “It was really warm. My heart rate was about 80%, but I couldn’t go harder. I wanted to stop, it was so hot. The running parts, there was no wind, it was insane, it was so warm. I don’t know how the girls in the front could handle it. For me, it was too hot today. The main focus now is to come back healthy. I know what the problem was today, why I wasn’t racing at 100%.
For Compton, a World Cup victory on U.S. soil was a career highlight. Prior to the 2015 Vegas event, the only other major international cyclocross race to be held in the U.S. was the 2013 world championships, in Louisville, Kentucky, where she placed second behind Marianne Vos.
“It feels really good,” Compton said about leading the World Cup after two of nine events. “It’s kind of a shame that I won’t do a full World Cup season. That’s okay, I’m focusing on the races I’m going to do, and I want to do well at those races. It’s early, we’ve got a long season in front of us. I just want to stay consistent, and get faster.”
CyclingTips correspondent Dan Seaton contributed to this report from Iowa City.