A fantastic duel between defending Champion Sven Nys (Belgium) and Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) was the apotheosis of a fantastic 2014 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship weekend in Hoogerheide, Netherlands. The eight-laps long race on a sunny Sunday afternoon had its climax in the final lap when Czech star Stybar exploited a few minor mistakes from Nys to grab his third world title. A few hours earlier it was Wout Van Aert (Belgium) who captured the rainbow jersey in the Men Under 23 category with a long solo effort.
Stybar didn’t hide away his ambitions and despite his fourth-row start position in the group of 61 starters he quickly moved up through the pack. That was in high contrast with outsider Niels Albert (Belgium) who won the World Championships race on the same course in 2009. Albert had a disastrous start despite his front row start position. Francis Mourey (France) took the best start in Hoogerheide and due to a crash from Martin Bina (Czech Republic) right behind him he was handed a small gap. Nys closed that gap and by the end of the opening lap Stybar already attacked and hit the second lap with a small lead; Albert was twentieth.
As Stybar was unleasing his forces few riders were able to match his speed on the technical course. When Stybar looked back he only saw Nys, Mourey and World Cup winner Lars van der Haar. The first chasers were already 13 seconds down on the four leaders. Stybar and Nys exchanged the lead and halfway the race both Mourey and Van der Haar were dropped. Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) and Klaas Vantornout (Belgium) were moving up from the background. Those four riders would battle for third place. In front several attacks were placed by both Nys and Stybar but each time the other rider was able to neutralize the damage within reasonable time. When hitting the penultimate lap it seemed like Nys was winning on points. Stybar crashed on the same fast right-hand corner where Bina had crashed in the opening lap and Nys once again had a gap. Again, Stybar closed it down. Little later Nys rode Stybar out of the wheels and the Czech was nearly bowing his head. That was until he saw how Nys slipped away at the switchbacks. From there Stybar had the upper hand. He put Nys under pressure and in the most muddy section Nys had to run earlier than he wanted. Stybar received an unexpected bonus and increased his running pace. Little later he exploited another minor mistake from Nys and he was gone for good. Stybar had time to celebrate his victory with Nys crossing the line at short distance. Kevin Pauwels won the battle for third place, finishing at forty seconds from Stybar. Vantornout was fourth at a minute from the winner, just ahead of Tom Meeusen (Belgium) and Van der Haar.
Earlier on Sunday there was a local storm raging, called Wout Van Aert. The 19 year-old Belgian rider wasted no time and unleashed his powers on a sloping uphill section. It was the same section where Stybar ran away from Nys. Most riders tried to ride up the slippery path and suddenly Van Aert ran by all of them. Pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) and other riders with high ambitions were left gasping for air. In no time Van Aert created a sizeable gap and by the end of the opening lap the first chasers were twenty seconds down on the Belgian leader. Van der Poel was unable to set up a comeback, clearly suffering at the back of the five-man chase group. Little later Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) escaped the chase group, trying to get back to his compatriot in front. Though the European Champion distanced Van der Poel, Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) and Toon Aerts (Belgium), he didn’t get back to Van Aert who rode around flawlessly. Van Aert would reach the finish line with a lead of fifty seconds on Vanthourenhout.
In the battle for third place the Belgians were well placed at the halfway point. Sweeck left Van der Poel and Aerts behind. One lap later also Aerts dropped Van der Poel and joined Sweeck. A Belgian 1-2-3-4 was in the make. Van der Poel didn’t plan to let this happen and picked up speed. During the penultimate lap he closed the gap on the Belgian duo Sweeck-Aerts and then he simply rode them out of the wheels to take the bronze medal at 1:17 from winner Van Aert. Stybar and Van Aert join Women’s winner Marianne Vos (Netherlands) and Junior Men winner Thijs Aerts (Belgium) as the four newly crowned UCI Cyclo-cross World Champions.
Next year’s they can defend their title at the 2015 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic.