Under 23 world champion foiled by mechanical
The most surprising performance of the cyclo-cross Superprestige series opener in Ruddervoorde, Belgium came from youngster Lars van der Haar (Rabobank). The 21-year-old Dutchman, a two-time U23 'cross world champion, grabbed the hole shot and managed to join world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) in the decisive breakaway. Van der Haar ultimately finished seventh in Ruddervoorde, blaming a pedal problem for his slide down the ranks by the finish.
Also present in Ruddervoorde was his British partner Lucy Garner, the new junior road world champion from Valkenburg.
The duo forms a cycling world champion couple. "I've never been to a cyclo-cross race from him so I'm probably more excited than him," Garner told Cyclingnews. Her first appearance at a cyclo-cross race from Van der Haar might explain his blast at the start.
"Hmm, maybe," Van der Haar smiled, "but it was mainly to get in the best position on the course. It hurt a lot because it was so long and after the first corner I allowed some guys to pass me."
Eventually he moved forward when the decisive move occurred but he eventually faded due to a mechanical. "It's a shame. I was very good but lost out because of a pedal problem. It's a new one and suddenly I was no longer able to click into them. I had to switch bikes," Van der Haar told Cyclingnews. "I'm very proud of what I did though as I'm still an under 23 rider."
Van der Haar might become the new foreigner who - once in a while - disturbs the Belgian hegemony in the cyclo-cross world. "I'll be happy to fulfill that role," Van der Haar told Cyclingnews after the race in Ruddervoorde. The last rider to claim that role was Zdenek Stybar but before him there a couple of Dutch riders who might feature as an example for Van der Haar. Both Lars Boom and earlier Richard Groenendaal were often spoiling the Belgian party, frequently as a target for boos from the huge Belgian crowds. "They were really targeted but that's not what I'm aiming for. Things went wrong for Richard after the world championships," Van der Haar analyzed. Groenendaal won the world championships of 2000, partly because Sven Nys wasn't allowed to chase his then Rabobank teammate. "Lars Boom was looking for trouble himself by making statements in interviews. For my part, I'm getting along well with the Belgians and want to have fun. In the race you're competing with each other but afterwards that's over," Van der Haar. It'll be hard for the Dutchman to get that message through to the typical Belgian cyclo-cross fan but it's worth trying.
Meanwhile the cyclo-cross giants heralded the performance from Van der Haar. Sven Nys was happy he was nearing his retirement. "I will not be bothered by him too much anymore as I don't think he can play his role in the finale of a race. Right now he's great at sticking on someone's wheel. Cyclo-cross needs him. Without non-Belgians like him it's a provincial sport," Nys said after the race in Ruddervoorde. World champion Niels Albert wasn't surprised. "Lars was good. It was commonly expected though. In two years he'll win big races. Maybe he can already do it, just like I did in Loenhout and Oostmalle as an under 23 rider," Albert said. Kevin Pauwels rode together with Van der Haar for a long time during the race. "He's very fast. I was on his wheel at the start but almost lost it because he was going so hard. I'm glad he's around," Pauwels told Cyclingnews. Miss Garner was also glad Van der Haar was around.
When leaving the course we spotted her awaiting her boyfriend at the camper and asked if she wasn't planning to do some 'cross racing. "No, not really. I always did it in the past but now I need some rest," Garner told Cyclingnews. The hot prospect of women's cycling also explained that she will be joining a professional team for the next season. "It should be announced by the team in the near future."