European champion Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) won the seventh Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup round in Heusden-Zolder (Belgium) on Boxing Day. After a week full of doubts, the 22-year-old rider set the cyclo-cross records straight again.
The Dutch ace finished solo on the dry and fast course, having time to display a wheelie at the finish line. Belgian riders Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus) and a disappointed world champion Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles) joined the Dutchman on the podium. It was the fifth World Cup win of the season for Van der Poel. Nevertheless, he expressed his relief since he received a beating from Van Aert at the World Cup round in Namur last week.
“It was really nice to win again today after my bad race in Namur last week,” Van der Poel said in the post-race flash interview. "I wasn’t faking illness. There was no other reason to skip Sint-Niklaas. It wasn’t possible. In hindsight it was the best call to make at that moment."
A week of illness for Van der Poel, combined with a good training camp and convincing performances for Van Aert, seemed to have turned the cyclo-cross season around. The domination from Van der Poel seemed over and Van Aert appeared to be back in the running. Before the start, Van der Poel was in doubt. He skipped Saturday’s race in Sint-Niklaas because he wasn’t capable just yet. Van Aert had a bag full of confidence after finally being able to get a few wins.
During the opening lap, Van der Poel set the pace. Van Aert was glued on his wheel, and also the Telenet Fidea Lions’ duo Lars van der Haar and Daan Soete were able to keep up. At the backend of the course, the Telenet-duo had to set foot on the ground while the top guns rode up the steep climb. During the second lap, a confident Van Aert put Van der Poel in trouble.
The Belgian rider even rode away from the Dutch rider after the latter had a hiccup at the set of stairs. Van der Poel managed to close the gap back down with a big effort on the long finishing straight of the former F1 car racing circuit.
“I wasn’t feeling like I was the strongest rider in the race,” Van der Poel said. "Especially after my knee fall at the set of stairs I thought he was gone. Wout was unlucky that the long road followed that section. I got into my rhythm."
From there, things turned around. Van der Poel upped the pace in the fourth of nine laps. He went at fast speed through the first - seemingly easy - corners and slowly rode away from his arch rival WVan Aert (Crelan-Charles). “It’s a weird sensation. Early on I felt good but then I Mathieu had a small gap. Once I was alone I was unable to maintain a high pace,” Van Aert said.
After clocking the fastest lap time of the day in Heusden-Zolder, Van der Poel shifted back to a steady rhythm. Van Aert struggled to keep up the pace and noticed that Laurens Sweeck was closing in on him. The latter bounced back from a poor start on a course that suits him, finishing as runner-up in 2016.
“I got boxed in at the first corner.," Sweeck said. "Ahead of me gaps started to open up. I rode at my own pace and was quickly able to pass a group. I didn’t hesitate but it took a long time to bridge up with Wout."
He joined up with Van Aert during the seventh lap and from there the duo gambled on a last-lap effort. First, Van Aert opened up a gap but he came to a standstill on one of the final climbs. Sweeck swiftly passed the world champion and narrowly held off Van Aert at the finish line.
“This is a boost for the morale," Sweeck said. "This is a fun way to race, especially when you end up as winner of such a duel. He rode away but made a small mistake. From there I went flat out until the finish. I was dying in the closing metres but luckily the gap was big enough when I hit the finishing straight. It’s been bad for two months and I’m glad it’s going better now. Last year I was runner-up over here and I’m glad to repeat that."
Van der Haar and Soete remained together for most of the race, with Van der Haar distancing his young teammate in the closing laps and taking fourth place. Corné van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions) won the battle for sixth place, holding off a surprisingly strong Tim Merlier (Crelan-Charles), Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games). Jens Adams (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice) closed out the top-10, distancing teammate Michal Boros.
Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) had a disastrous start. He had to switch bikes during the opening lap and start from the back of the field. The veteran managed to bounce back and claim 12th place after a long pursuit. Pauwels passed US champion Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) in the final lap. Former top gun Tom Meeusen (Beobank-Corendon) was 14th, just ahead of German champion Marcel Meisen (Steylaerts-Betfirst) and Steve Chainel (Team Chazal-Canyon).
In the World Cup standings, Van der Poel now has 535 points, extending his lead over Van Aert back up to 90 points. With only 80 points at stake for the winner of a World Cup round, the Dutch rider nearly has a his first overall World Cup win in the pocket.
“It’s looking good,” Van der Poel said. "If, for example, the World Cup would’ve been on Saturday it would’ve been totally different because I wouldn’t have started. Things can turn around quickly. If I’m riding at my normal level then it should be in the pocket for the first time in my career."
Toon Aerts holds onto third place overall with 380 points. Sweeck moves up from ninth to fifth place with 356 points after his strong performance in Zolder. Van Kessel, Vanthourenhout and Van der Haar are also in the mix for that fifth place.
The next World Cup round will be contested in Nommay (France) on January 21.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mathieu Van Der Poel (Ned)||1:03:16|
|2||Laurens Sweeck (Bel)||0:00:33|
|3||Wout Van Aert (Bel)|
|4||Lars Van Der Haar (Ned)||0:01:18|
|5||Daan Soete (Bel)||0:01:39|
|6||Corne Van Kessel (Ned)||0:01:54|
|7||Tim Merlier (Bel)||0:01:55|
|8||Toon Aerts (Bel)||0:01:58|
|9||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel)||0:02:07|
|10||Jens Adams (Bel)||0:02:40|
|11||Michael Boroš (Cze)||0:02:51|
|12||Kevin Pauwels (Bel)||0:02:58|
|13||Stephen Hyde (USA)||0:03:06|
|14||Tom Meeusen (Bel)||0:03:16|
|15||Marcel Meisen (Ger)||0:03:18|
|16||Steve Chainel (Fra)||0:03:19|
|17||Diether Sweeck (Bel)||0:03:46|
|18||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel)||0:03:51|
|19||Nicolas Cleppe (Bel)||0:03:53|
|20||Gioele Bertolini (Ita)||0:03:55|
|21||Jim Aernouts (Bel)||0:04:15|
|22||Felipe Orts Lloret (Spa)||0:04:22|
|23||Stan Godrie (Ned)||0:04:28|
|24||Sascha Weber (Ger)||0:04:50|
|25||Simon Zahner (Swi)||0:04:52|
|26||Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibañez (Spa)||0:05:07|
|27||Twan Van Den Brand (Ned)||0:05:11|
|28||Matthieu Boulo (Fra)||0:05:14|
|29||Tomáš Paprstka (Cze)||0:05:19|
|30||David Menut (Fra)||0:05:29|
|31||Severin Sägesser (Swi)||0:05:36|
|32||Ismael Esteban Aguero (Spa)||0:05:58|
|33||Marcel Wildhaber (Swi)||0:06:31|
|34||Klaas Vantornout (Bel)|
|35||Jan Nesvadba (Cze)|
|36||Tony Periou (Fra)|
|37||Nicolas Samparisi (Ita)|
|38||Arthur Tropardy (Fra)|
|39||Patrick Van Leeuwen (Ned)|
|40||Alois Falenta (Fra)|
|41||Martin Haring (Svk)|
|42||Francis Mourey (Fra)|
|43||Lorenzo Samparisi (Ita)|
|44||Kenneth Hansen (Den)|
|45||Vincent Dias Dos Santos (Lux)|
|46||Ondrej Glajza (Svk)|
|47||Manuel Müller (Ger)|
|48||Audric Pasquet (Fra)|
|49||David Eriksson (Swe)|
|50||Martin Eriksson (Swe)|
|51||Henrik Jansson (Swe)|
|52||Garry Millburn (Aus)|
|53||Yu Takenouchi (Jpn)|
|54||Andrew Juiliano (USA)|
|55||Martin Hunal (Cze)|
|56||Marvin Schmidt (Ger)|
|57||Wolfram Kurschat (Ger)|
|58||Daniel Ania Gonzalez (Spa)|
|59||Jonas Hablitzel (Ger)|
|60||Ulrich Theobald (Ger)|
|61||Yannick Mayer (Ger)|
|DNF||Quinten Hermans (Bel)|
|DNF||Vincent Baestaens (Bel)|
|DNF||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned)|
|DNF||David Van Der Poel (Ned)|
|DNF||Wietse Bosmans (Bel)|
|DNS||Joachim Parbo (Den)|