Superprestige Heusden-Zolder: Wout van Aert beats out Eli Iserbyt in hard-fought contest

Van Aert takes his fifth career win in Heusden-Zolder, as Iserbyt comes undone on the course's final climbs

Clock15:18, Wednesday 27th December 2023
Wout van Aert got the better of Eli Iserbyt in the end, but it was a close battle

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Wout van Aert got the better of Eli Iserbyt in the end, but it was a close battle

Wout van Aert powered to his fifth career victory on the Heusden-Zolder course after a tense battle with cyclo-cross full-timer Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal). The Superprestige leader pushed Van Aert all the way throughout the race's final two laps, but it was the Jumbo-Visma man who proved too strong on the climbs to take a narrow victory on Wednesday.

The pair's dual lit up the final couple of laps, but for a long time it looked as though this race would be decided amongst a group of six or seven, with the fast course not offering much room for gaps to emerge. However, under Van Aert's acceleration in the sixth lap, he and Iserbyt were able to move clear of their rivals.

Van Aert may have won regardless, but it is worth noting that Iserbyt broke one of his BOA shoe dials on the final lap, which loosened his right shoe as the pair attacked the final climbs. Iserbyt won his U23 World Championship title on the Heusden-Zolder course, but still awaits his first victory here as an elite.

Behind Van Aert and Iserbyt, Baloise Trek Lions' Joris Nieuwenhuis finished third place after an entertaining battle with the likes of Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Joran Wyseure (Crelan-Corendon) and the day's biggest surprise, Tibor Del Grosso (Alpecin-Deceuninck)

Gaps at a premium throughout first two laps

It was Kevin Kuhn of Circus-Reuz-Technord who won the hole shot to begin the race, but Alpecin-Deceuninck's Tibor Del Grosso soon rounded the Swiss rider and took the lead in the absence of teammate Mathieu van der Poel. Del Grosso is the current U23 World Cup leader, but produced a phenomenal start to lead through much of the opening lap.

Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert suffered a mediocre start from the flag drop, and in front of the Belgian, the likes of Eli Iserbyt, Joris Nieuwenhuis and Quinten Hermans (Alpecin-Deceuninck) all began to impress themselves towards the front. The Baloise Trek Lions man was the first rider to round Grosso, with Van Aert manoeuvring himself into a strong position behind.

Del Grosso's teammate Niels Vandeputte was well in the mix and as the first lap came to an end, six riders had gathered as one at the front of the race: Nieuwenhuis, Del Grosso, Iserbyt, Vandeputte, Van Aert and Kuhn.

Over the second lap, this group swelled as the fast course refused to offer up opportunities for gaps to emerge. In turn, Van Aert cannily made his way into second place behind Ward Huybs (Baloise Trek Lions) and waited for his opportunity to strike out. Without Van der Poel and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) on the startlist, the Belgian was certainly the race favourite.

This opportunity came as the second lap came to an end, with Van Aert leading the race into the third. On his wheel laid Huybs, Iserbyt, Vandeputte, Nieuwenhuis and Del Grosso, whilst Joran Wyseure (Crelan-Corendon), Kuhn and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) looked to drag themselves back into contention behind.

Seven-rider group stays as one, as finals laps loom large

Van Aert declined the chance to produce his own acceleration, however, with the front group remaining a tight collective - now including Wyseure amongst its number - as the race approached the 20-minute mark. In his pursuit behind, however, Kuhn was the first prominent rider to hit the deck having misjudged a right-hand bend.

Into the fourth lap, Del Grosso took a small lead after he produced a phenomenal line down one of the final steep descents on the course, forcing Iserbyt to expend valuable energy to bridge across to the race leader.

By this point, it had been decided that the race would be eight laps long, which prompted questions over how long Del Grosso's blistering start could last. The 20-year-old was riding only the second elite race of his season after all. His debut at Superprestige Boom had yielded a 13th-place finish, but by now he looked destined to improve on this.

Rather surprisingly, Van Aert hung towards the back of the leading group throughout much of the fourth lap, his strategy proving opposite to that of Superprestige leader Iserbyt, who was determined to force the pace from the front. The Belgian, compatriot Vandeputte, Del Grosso and Nieuwenhuis took a small lead into the fifth lap, but Van Aert, Huybs and Wyseure soon made the front group seven strong again.

These seven riders rode in each other's wheel as Nieuwenhuis, Iserbyt and Del Grosso each traded efforts at the front of the pack. Nieuwenhuis opted for a bike change in the fifth lap and this saw him and Wyseure struggle towards the back of the group, as Iserbyt unleashed probing attacks at the front.

Wout van Aert and Eli Iserbyt leave the rest in their wake

Into the sixth lap, Van Aert, Del Grosso, Iserbyt, Vandeputte and Nieuwenhuis held a six-second advantage over Huybs and Wyseure, but once again, a lull in the pace allowed the group to swell to seven once again. Van Aert had again declined the opportunity to produce his own acceleration at the front and as the race approached the 40-minute mark, Iserbyt was the most aggressive rider.

Time and time again, Iserbyt launched mini-accelerations and though he could not force himself free from the group, he was successful in dropping Huybs from the front. Van Aert's timely acceleration came midway through the sixth lap, and it was only Iserbyt who could remain within touching distance of his compatriot.

Van Aert and Iserbyt could not be separated as they entered the seventh lap, with the two Belgians enjoying a handsome advantage over those behind. Del Grosso led the chase, but looked as though Iserbyt and Van Aert would now contest the race win.

Under the weight of Van Aert's pressure, Iserbyt battled bravely to remain in the three-time world champion's wheel and halfway through the penultimate lap, Iserbyt came to the front for the first time in the duo's breakaway.

Nieuwenhuis, Del Grosso, Vandeputte and Wyseure had not given up and continued to work well together, but their deficit stood at well over 20 seconds as the leading pair entered the eighth and final lap of the race.

The showdown between Iserbyt and Van Aert was reminiscent of Fem van Empel and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado earlier in the day, but would the men's race also be decided by a sprint?

Read more: Superprestige Heusden-Zolder: Fem van Empel wins thriller against Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado

The answer would be no, with Van Aert's power allowing him to dispatch of Iserbyt in the uphill sections towards the end of the lap. On the climbs, Van Aert romped to victory and behind him, Iserbyt's head dropped in defeat. There was no matching Van Aert as he sat up in celebration on the final straight, delivering what may be the final win in Jumbo-Visma team history.

Iserbyt was forced to settle for second, with Nieuwenhuis getting the better of those behind to round out the day's podium. Vandeputte was in fourth, just ahead of his teammate Del Grosso and Wyseure was strong enough to take sixth place. Del Grosso's ride was perhaps the ride of the day and most certainly the most impressive of his fledgling career to date.

Race Results

1

be flag

VAN AERT Wout

57' 05"

2

be flag

ISERBYT Eli

+ 8"

3

nl flag

NIEUWENHUIS Joris

+ 34"

4

be flag

VANDEPUTTE Niels

+ 38"

5

nl flag

DEL GROSSO Tibor

+ 44"

6

be flag

WYSEURE Joran

+ 46"

7

be flag

HUYBS Ward

+ 1' 01"

8

ch flag

KUHN Kevin

+ 1' 05"

9

be flag

AERTS Thijs

+ 1' 06"

10

be flag

DOCKX Aaron

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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