In absence of Lars van der Haar (Giant-Shimano Development Team) the World Cup leader’s jersey in the Elite Men category was up for grabs in Koksijde. The Dutchman was feverish and did not start in Koksijde. Since there were no races for the youth categories in Koksijde most of these talented young riders decided to have a go amongst the big boys. Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus), two exponents of this generation accelerated away from a large group in one of the long sand sections during the third of nine sandy laps through the Koksijde dunes. In no time the duo collected a large lead as the older generation failed to come up with an answer.
Before halfway the race Van Aert increased the pace even more and started putting Van der Poel into trouble. In the fourth lap Van Aert took off for a long solo ride. Meanwhile Belgian champion Sven Nys had an off-day and never reached the front of the race. The other riders seemed to keep each other in check and afterwards Kevin Pauwels explained he was unaware that there were two leaders. By the time Van Aert had almost 45s Pauwels powered away from the chase group. He rode a blistering fast lap but didn’t get much closer on flawless leader Van Aert. Van der Poel was caught and left behind by Pauwels but managed to hold off the other chasers. Van Aert cruised on towards a massive victory on home soil.
The 20 year-old celebrated the win with a tribute to Paul Herygers and Niels Albert who both won the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Koksijde back in 1994 and 2012, hopping off his bike shortly before the finish line. Pauwels and Van der Poel joined Van Aert on the podium. Thanks to his second place Pauwels becomes the new leader in the World Cup standings. He holds a lead of 25 points over Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team) who finished respectively fourth and fifth in Koksijde.
The win from Cant in the Women category came after a race long battle with Sabrina Stultiens (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team) and especially Sophie de Boer. Both De Boer and Cant had a great start and gapped the main field early on. Only Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (France) briefly managed to keep up with the duo but quickly rode on at her own pace. In the background Stultiens needed more time to reach the front. For two laps she had the leaders in sight without failing to bridge up with them. Cant made some minor mistakes in the sand and little later finally managed to close the gap.
It was clear the trio in front would fight for the victory as Chainel-Lefevre was trailing by more than half a minute. De Boer led most of the final lap with Stultiens and Cant following her moves. Just before hitting the final dunes Cant caught both Stultiens and De Boer by surprise. She was slaloming to the front and behind her De Boer struggled with her gears. When hitting the final corners Cant found herself with a good gap and she had time to celebrate her first ever World Cup victory. Stultiens won the sprint for second place before De Boer. The latter becomes the new leader in the World Cup since previous leader Katherine Compton (USA) had an off-day and finished tenth in Koksijde.
Pauwels and De Boer will defend their lead next weekend at the next round of the World Cup in Milton Keynes, UK.