Sweeck and Alvarado win Superprestige Merksplas as Pidcock settles for seventh

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Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) kicked off a full weekend of cyclocross racing with wins on a dirt and mud track at Superprestige Merksplas.

Sweeck continued his winning momentum with a strong solo that stopped the pursuit of Lars van der Haar (Baloise-Trek Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who finished in second and third place respectively.

Former Belgian champion Sweeck has been on a roll this winter with a first World Cup victory in Maasmechelen leading to a treble of victories in the last eight days.

“My career wasn’t entirely clear, but that wasn’t the case for anyone,” he said after his fourth win of the season on Saturday. “I was able to make the difference early on because no one really came close and that worked in my favor afterwards. I’m not 100 percent yet, but very good.”

Pidcock glowed rainbow for the first time after winning the world title in Fayetteville.

Reigning world champion Tom Pidcock finished seventh in the men’s race after grabbing the pre-race spotlight ahead of his debut in the rainbow jersey.

Pidcock had previously suggested that he would lose pace in his early crosses of the season and later regretted choosing the Merksplas technical pitch for his winter restart.

“He wasn’t the best to start with. The curves made me waste so much time. My level was fine but I was losing time in a lot of places,” Pidcock said.

“There were a few more mistakes, but I’m happy, it wasn’t bad. Winning in this jersey this season would be nice. It was good [to wear the rainbow jersey for the first time]. The public supported me a lot, it was nice even though I wasn’t in front.”

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Alvarado keeps coming back to his best

Alvarado won for the second time in eight days.

Alvarado took solo victory in the women’s race as the Dutch star continues to find her winning pace.

The 2019-20 world champion topped the podium from Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Inge van der Heijden (777) after passing Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) on the first lap of the grueling Belgian circuit.

“It certainly wasn’t easy today, even though it looked like it,” Alvarado said after the race. “I had to keep pushing on a very hard lap. I was a bit lucky with a good start for Marianne Vos. She backed off and I got a clear heading.”

The victory is Alvarado’s second in two weeks after he spent a season outside the winner’s circle last winter.

“Don’t forget to win,” he said. “That was very special, now I am getting in shape. The form is good, so you expect some things to come.”

Young sensation Zoe Bäckstedt finished fifth, while her EF Education-TIBCO-SVB teammate and US Champion Clara Honsinger finished ninth. None of the recent standouts Fem van Empel, Puck Pieterse or Shirin van Anrooij competed.

Cyclocross racing continues on Sunday at the World Cup round in Overijse.

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