The last World Cup round of the 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season again proved a success for Dutch ace Lars van der Haar (Rabobank-Giant Off-road Team) in the U23 men's category. One and a half minutes after he won the race, three champions rolled across the finish together in 11th through 13th places. Italian champion Elia Silvestri blasted ahead of US champion Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) and Belgian champion Wietse Bosmans (BKCP-Powerplus). One week ahead of the world championships, McDonald showed that he's ready for a good ride in Koksijde, Belgium.
McDonald's eventual 12th place doesn't quite reflect the remarkable race that he rode in Hoogerheide, a small town near the Belgian border and naval town Antwerp. Being able to crack the top-15 after a horrible start that put him out of the top-40 was quite impressive and McDonald acknowledged that.
"I'm happy with the outcome after my terrible start. I didn't want to wait to move up, but the traffic was there, so I tried to be patient," McDonald said. The muddy course that was even more slippery due to some minor rain showers in the morning caused the riders to dig deep in their energy tank. The gusts of wind didn't make things easier. During the first couple of laps, it seemed like McDonald wouldn't finish anywhere near the top-10 as he barely moved up. After one lap, he was 31st, then 27th and after three laps 22nd. One week earlier in Liévin, he showed a similar progression, but that tends to stop once you face stronger riders.
"It played to my advantage that I race with the pros in the USA, and I'm used to racing for 60 minutes. In the final laps, I had more left in my tank than many others. I moved up more than I did in Liévin last week," McDonald told Cyclingnews. Halfway through the race, McDonald cracked the top-20 and he continued to move up into 16th, then 13th and just before the finishing straight even 11th. "Then Silvestire bulldozed over me again. He's much stronger."
When looking at the lap times, it turns out McDonald rode very consistent - except for that first lap - and in the second half of the race, his lap times continuously clocked a top-10 time.
McDonald rode all four World Cup rounds and finished 14th overall which offers him a second-row starting position at the world championships in Koksijde. Taking his poor starts in mind, it seems like a realistic ambition to crack the top-10 in Koksijde, but then in the actual race and not in the lap times.
"They should start some sort of time trial cyclo-cross because I mess up my races in the first lap," McDonald joked. "I will try to get my start going. The sand doesn't make it easier for me, but I heard it is pretty rideable which suits me. The less I need to run the better for me," McDonald said.
The under 23 men will battle it out for their world championship title on Saturday afternoon in Koksijde, Belgium.