Three gold medals won out of four
Having won three of the four races in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, plus a silver and a bronze, the Netherlands led the medal count for the second consecutive year.
Aside from Marianne Vos's sixth rainbow jersey in the women's race, the Dutch were top two in the juniors with Mathieu van der Poel and Martijn Budding, won the U23s thanks to a tenacious ride by Mike Teunissen, and Lars van der Haar was third in the elites.
In addition, van der Poel and Budding were top two juniors in the World Cup this year, and although van der Haar's early exit from the U23 ranks left the door open for Belgium's Wietse Bosmans to dominate the World Cup and UCI rankings, van der Poel will graduate to the espoirs next season.
It's a resurgence for the neighbors to the north of the heart of cyclo-cross, Belgium, but Dutch coach Johan Lammerts is concerned that his pipeline of talent in the younger ranks will be siphoned off by the more lucrative road racing scene.
It's happened in the past: previous Dutch world champions include Lars Boom and Boy van Poppel - both of whom left ‘cross for the road, leaving the Belgians to stack the Worlds ‘cross podium in the elite men's ranks.
What is the Dutch federation doing to build so much success in ‘cross? Coach Johan Lammerts couldn't pin it down. "We've been working hard on it. I don't do it myself. I have tons of people who were working towards this event," he told Cyclingnews. "Maybe the competition is a little less, or maybe we have better riders, but they work hard - they train hard."
The team came to the USA well in advance of the championships, which helped them recover from the jetlag in time, but Lammerts also think the wild swings in weather benefitted the Dutch.
"We adapted quite good to the weather circumstances. That is something that we have in Holland, this kind of variety in weather."
Yet the success came not only in Louisville, but throughout the season, especially for van der Poel who went undefeated for the entire year. At 18, he turns laps as quick as the elite men and looks poised to be the Dutch equivalent of Eric De Vlaeminck, who handed Belgium a record seven elite men's ‘cross titles, six of them consecutive.
"In the past five years with the younger categories we do every well, and the women of course with Marianne Vos we are dominating. I just hope those younger riders keep riding in cyclo-cross because sometimes they switch to the road and it's disappointing sometimes for me. On the other hand it's understandable.
"In Belgium cyclo-cross is quite big, and with that comes money. That makes the difference.
"It is popular in Holland, but it could improve, and our success here is important for next year's world championships [in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands]. We've been working hard to do extra marketing for the sport. The only thing I can do is the technical aspect, and hope that those results get more sponsorship and more attention from the media."
Lammerts can count on van der Haar to remain in the discipline. The 21-year-old winner of two consecutive U23 rainbow jerseys has vowed to stick with ‘cross. He moved up to the elites a season early to get more of a challenge, and his tenacious, punchy style earned him the nickname "Jack Russell" (after the terrier) by Sporza commentator Michel Wuyts.
Van der Haar was pleased to show in Louisville that he's more than just a sprinter who chases after the wheels of the other riders with his ride in the mud this past Sunday.
Of his nickname, he said, "It's funny - I am small, and I do like to get on the wheel and not let go, so it does fit a bit. But at the end of the season I was on the front too, so maybe I'm turning into a pit bull."
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