Mathieu van der Poel rides the adverse camber cleanly, behind Wout van Aert’s rear wheel slips as he reaches the end of the section. Van Aert puts his foot down and Van der Poel rides away. That was the moment the 2019 World Championship was won. It was a tricky adverse camber at the top of the course. Van der Poel rode it cleanly every lap, Van Aert rode it cleanly the first few laps, but in that moment his in ability to ride that section cost him the race.
To most, picking the World Championships is a sort of no brainer for race of the year. We took a look at Koppenberg cross, which was the only race Van der Poel finished without winning. Our thoughts then move to the first two World Cups where Toon Aerts and Van Aert battled it out for victory. However, when we looked at the history of the World Championships and the story surrounding the event, coupled with the way the race unfolded, we decided it was the race of the year.
It was Van der Poel’s failures at the past three World Championships that led many to hesitate, if just for a moment, before picking him as the potential winner. Many seem to forget that four years ago, in his first season as an elite rider, he took home the rainbow jersey. The hesitation is well warranted; Van der Poel’s past three appearances at worlds have netted him one silver and one bronze medal. Meanwhile, his rival Wout van Aert, was able to win three straight titles.
This past season was arguably the greatest season ever for a single rider. Van der Poel won all but two of the races he entered. He was simply dominant. He would always finish alone, usually without another rider in sight. This clearly made him the favorite for worlds. However, Van der Poel was the favorite for each of the past three years. As the defending champion in 2016 all eyes were on him, he would finish a distant fifth. In 2017, Van der Poel has won all but nine races making him the clear favorite, he would finish second. Last year, Van der Poel had won all but six races. He would need a last lap surge just to make the podium in third. In each of those three years, Van Aert would come out on top.
Thus, the main question was, can Van der Poel break the curse and finally pick up his second rainbow jersey?
As he had done all season, Van der Poel put in an early surge, gapping everyone, including Van Aert. This was the moment, as we had seen all season, that spelled the end of the race for victory. However, Van Aert came back. After a lengthy chase he was able to latch on to the back wheel of Van der Poel. The curse of worlds seemed to suddenly reappear. However, a few laps later, on the adverse camber section, Van der Poel got the gap he was looking for. Van Aert could not recover and chase him down. Game over. Van der Poel would be the new World Champion.
This was the race of the year.
Looking forward, it is clear that Van Aert is focused on the road. Some argued that his lack of explosive power towards the end of the season, including worlds, was due to his impending season racing the WorldTour. Van der Poel insists he will still do it all, but with a tough road and mountain bike season a head his cross season may be reduced even further. This is possibly the last time we will see these two riders at, or near, the top of their game battling it out for the rainbow stripes. We are not going to get too much more nostalgic, but it does feel like our race of the year may be the end of a generation. Only time will tell.