After delaying the start to his 2016-17 cyclo-cross campaign, Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) confirmed through his team on Thursday that he will start the first round of the Hansgrohe Superprestige Sunday in Gieten.
The runner-up to Wout van Aert in last season's World Championships injured his hamstring during the run-up to this season and had to scrub plans to open the 2016-17 World Cup series in the US at CrossVegas and Jingle Cross.
"It's going well at the moment and there have been more ups than downs," he said in a statement released by the team. "I can train more or less pain-free, but of course, I need to be cautious to not have several high-intensity training sessions following each other closely, to avoid facing a setback."
Van der Haar's return will be welcome news for Dutch cyclo-cross fans after 2015 World Champion Mathieu van der Poel was also sidelined following knee surgery. In their absence, the Belgian wold champion Van Aert dominated both US World Cups races, overcoming an early crash in CrossVegas to comfortably solo in for the win, then being delayed by a mechanical at Jingle Cross, once again having to fight through traffic before soloing away to a seemingly easy victory.
Van der Haar said his first goal will be to get back to 100 percent fitness and "gradually" work toward his previous level.
"As soon as that goal is reached I want to focus on results again and compete for podium finishes," he said. "But I expect that will first take at least another month or so and then we’ll set specific goals as that doesn't make any sense at this time. For sure, it will be difficult to have ambitions in the classifications because I will loose some ground in the first races in comparison to the competition. Hopefully, I am at full strength again to defend my European jersey in October."
GIant-Alpecin coach Adriaan Helmantel also emphasised a patient approach with Van der Haar's return.
"The main objective for Lars will be to target race results and podium finishes, once he is fully fit," Helmantel said. "We will have to be opportunistic and focus on the races that suit Lars' characteristics. We hope his progression will enable him to battle for the victories from November onwards. We will take a steady approach and the focus will then be more on the variety of races and championships than on the overall classifications."
Van der Haar said he expects a challenging return Sunday in Gieten, adding that his main objective is just to get back into the rhythm of cyclo-cross again.
"A lot of my competitors have kicked off their seasons in the US last weekend," he said, "so perhaps their fatigue can work in my favour."