Many times the dunes of Koksijde served as the scene for thrilling races. Paul Heryrgers and Niels Albert for example gained their title as world champion on the airbase in the far west of belgium. As Albert had to face an early end of his career due to cardiac problemsearlier this year, this day become one of the emotionally most difficult days of this season.
But just stay in sequence. In Koksijde only women and men elite races count for the UCI worldcup. The younger categories assemble a simple international race without relevance for the worldcup. For this reason some of the top riders were missing here.
At the juniors race american rider Gage Hecht managed to to take the win ahead of Alessio Dhoore and Stefano Musseuw who is the youngest son of Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders.
In the U23 category most of the top riders choosed not to start, but applied for the elite race. This season a new rule came into effect, that all riders who are in the Top50 of the world ranking are allowed to participate in the world cup races. Therefore most of the belgium toppers decided to race the elite world cup instead of the international U23 competition. For this reason, Dan Soete took the win of the U23 having a short lead towards Diether Sweeck and Quinten Hermans.
The ladies race was the first race of the world cup competition. Right from the start Sophie de Boer and Sanne Cant took the lead oft the bunch of thirtynine riders. During the fourth lap european juniors champion Sabrina Stultiens, who was thrown back to ninth place at the start. managed to close in. For the last two laps this trio lead the race side by side. But during a short an sandy climb in the final lap Sanne Cant managed to produce a small gap between her two opponents and herself. The reigning belgian and european champion managed to gain her first ever victory in a worldcup event. The remaining two ladies fought with a final sprint which was won by young Sabrina Stultiens ahead of Sophie de Boer. The latter proved one more time that she is in very good shape this season.
For the first time during a race of the worldcup a clash of generations was about to happen. Due to the change in rules mentioned earlier, U23 world champion Wout van Aert and the dutch youngster Mathieu van der Poel participated in an elite worldcup race. Van Aert managed to win the Koppenberg Cross earlier this month, and van der Poel has been successfull in Gieten at the start of the season. So everybody eagerly waited how these crown princes would be able to play their parts in the concert of the big guns in such an important race like Kosksijde. The former star of the Duinencross Niels Albert had to stop his career earlier this year and stepped back into cycling business beeing the coach of belgian young gun Wout van Aert. How much of his experience could he handle over to his young trainee? But one thing was for sure, this day should become one of the hardest moments after his retirement. Beeing forced to watch the race without participating must have been quite stress and painfull for him beeing the winner of last year edition.
But his work with Wout van Aert should become rewarded on this particular day. Just in the beginning of the race both of the youngsters , Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel took the lead and dictated the speed. Wheel on wheel both split the sandy track and it started to look as if this would become the duell of the day. But just halfway of the race Mathieu van der Poel started to produce little faults, and out of the sudden van Aert found himself alone racing in front. Paul Herygers who became world champion at this decent place just twenty years ago feared that van Aert would have to pay heavily for his early lead later during the race. But the yound U23 champion undeviatingly raced at his own speed and increased his lead continiously during the second halftime of the race. Mathieu van der Poel continued to struggle but was caught by Kevin Pauwels who gained momentum in the second half of the race. Van der Poel could not keep the pace of Pauwels and had to fight to stay ahead of Tom Meeusen who kept running up to him. At the end, van der Poel managed to keep a small lead of two seconds at the finish line.
Wout van Aert decided to honor his trainer and mentor Niels Albert in a special way. On the home straight he jumped of the bike and on again (like Albert and Herygers did at their championship victories as well) , and started a typical Albert cheer to celebrate the victory. During the final award ceremony Albert had to fight his emotions heavily. When the national anthem faded he was overwhelmed by his emotions and tears broke free.