The first ever elite Men’s European cyclo-cross championships turned into a thrilling battle between pre-race favourites Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) and Wout Van Aert (Belgium). Van der Haar kept his cool and won the battle, reaching the finish with a small lead on Van Aert.
Due to an early flat Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) had to chase for most of the race. He was never in contention for the victory but took the bronze medal.
Van der Haar clearly couldn’t believe he had just beaten Van Aert to take the first ever elite men’s European title on home soil when he crossed the finish line.
“I still can’t believe it. It has to sink in,” Van der Haar told Telenet Play Sports. “Honestly, I have to admit that I figured it was over when Wout was gone. I somewhat gave up on it. I did hope that with one mistake from him that I could come back.”
That moment occurred during the sixth of nine laps in the race. Van der Haar was unable to keep up with Van Aert when the Belgian accelerated in the second half of the circuit. The race seemed to be over but surprisingly the young Belgian began to struggle one lap later. Van der Haar bridged back up and they began the final lap together. Van der Haar attacked first and he was able to reach a steep sand section with enough of a bonus to take the first European title.
“It was quite obvious that Wout was better on the run-dune section. I felt that I was better at the other side of the course in the technical section,” Van der Haar explained.
When I went I just wanted to try it, to play all my cards. If he would be able to counter me then so be it, because he was running better anyway. But I knew that if I could reach that running section with a bonus then victory was within my reach. In hindsight you’re always right. Wout played his cards too. He did all he had to do but made one mistake.”
Van Aert was massively disappointed
Van Aert was massively disappointed that he lost out on the European title. He lay over his bike after crossing the finish line. Words of consolation from his girlfriend and coach Niels Albert didn’t seem to help him.
“I had it in my hands but suddenly it just didn’t work anymore,” Van Aert said.
“He was smarter and stronger in the final lap. I never should have given it away when I was leading. I felt good but in the end I reached my limit and hit the wall. I really looked forward to becoming the first European champion but it didn’t work out. I would love to swap some of my eight victories this season for this one. Obviously it’s very disappointing that it didn’t work out on a day like today.”
The duo of Van der Haar and Van Aert were expected to colour the race in Huijbergen. Kevin Pauwels was an outsider, as was Sven Nys (Belgium) but the veteran Belgian was ill over night, missing out on his first and last chance on the European title before retiring in the spring.
Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium), Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) and Clément Venturini (France) coloured the first part of the race. By the end of the third lap Vanthourenhout and Sweeck were still riding up front. The two young Belgians were then joined by Van der Haar and Van Aert who had accelerated away from the rest of the field.
The Chicken run
During the first part of the fourth lap a technical section cost Vanthourenhout and Sweeck their spot up front. This section included a steep descent, referred to as the Chicken Run because of the option between a steep and a safe path. Just like most of the best riders Vanthourenhout took the tricky option but he slipped away in the following corner. Sweeck paid the price for his fast start a little later.
For the two following laps there was a status quo and co-operation between Van Aert and Van der Haar to hold off a comeback from Pauwels. Then Van Aert attacked on a sandy dune where he exploited his running skills.
“I felt really good and was able to create a gap on Lars. Normally I would just pull through but one lap later I felt that I was hitting the red zone. My chain briefly dropped when hopping back on the bike and I briefly blocked. Lars was back in no time,” Van Aert explained.
“In the final lap I still had my chances but I made the mistake not to be in front at that small forest. I briefly had to get off the bike.”
Pauwels was best of the rest at 39 seconds from winner Van der Haar. He was content with the podium result.
“I was riding on my limit for most of the race. Maybe that more was possible if I hadn’t flattened. I saw them riding in the penultimate lap but they were holding back,” Pauwels accepted.
Michael Vanthourenhout was fourth at 56 seconds, well ahead of in-form Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland) and Thijs van Amerongen (Netherlands). Laurens Sweeck held off Corné van Kessel (Netherlands) to finish seventh. Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic) captured his best result of the season in ninth place ahead of Tim Merlier (Belgium) who lost some ground after crashing hard in the corner after the ‘chicken run’.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands)||1:02:29|
|2||Wout Van Aert (Belgium)||0:00:19|
|3||Kevin Pauwels (Belgium)||0:00:39|
|4||Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium)||0:00:56|
|5||Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland)||0:01:20|
|6||Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands)||0:01:33|
|7||Laurens Sweeck (Belgium)||0:01:51|
|8||Corné Van Kessel (Netherlands)||0:02:08|
|9||Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic)||0:02:13|
|10||Tim Merlier (Belgium)||0:02:21|
|11||Philipp Walsleben (Germany)||0:02:24|
|12||Steve Chainel (France)||0:02:35|
|13||Stan Godrie (Netherlands)|
|14||Jens Adams (Belgium)||0:02:54|
|15||Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium)||0:02:58|
|16||Simon Zahner (Switzerland)||0:03:03|
|17||Rob Peeters (Belgium)||0:03:19|
|18||Clement Venturini (France)||0:03:27|
|19||Michael Boros (Czech Republic)||0:03:38|
|20||Niels Wubben (Netherlands)||0:03:43|
|21||David Van Der Poel (Netherlands)||0:03:47|
|22||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Belgium)||0:03:58|
|23||Vojtech Nipl (Czech Republic)||0:04:07|
|24||Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland)||0:04:18|
|25||Martin Haring (Slovakia)||0:04:26|
|26||Twan Van Den Brand (Netherlands)||0:04:43|
|27||Severin Saegesser (Switzerland)||0:04:53|
|28||Tomas Paprstka (Czech Republic)||0:05:27|
|29||Jakub Skala (Czech Republic)||0:05:40|
|30||Mariusz Gil (Poland)||0:05:58|
|31||Matej Lasak (Czech Republic)||0:06:31|
|32||Ole Quast (Germany)||-1 lap|
|33||Kenneth Hansen (Denmark)|
|34||Vladimir Kyzivat (Czech Republic)||-2 laps|
|35||Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg)|
|36||Michal Malik (Czech Republic)|
|37||Philipp Heigl (Austria)||-4 laps|
|38||Martin Eriksson (Sweden)|
|39||Karl-Heinz Gollinger (Austria)|
|40||Ingvar Omarsson (Iceland)|
|41||Kipurs Kristaps (Latvia)||-5 laps|
|42||Domas Manikas (Lithuania)|
|DNF||Marcel Meisen (Germany)|
|DNF||Tom Meeusen (Belgium)|
|DNF||Diether Sweeck (Belgium)|
|DNF||Sascha Weber (Germany)|
|DNF||Vincent Dias Dos Santos (Luxembourg)|
|DNS||Sven Nys (Belgium)|
|DNS||Francis Mourey (France)|