Mathieu van der Poel back from illness to win Heusden-Zolder World Cup

Laurens Sweeck second, Van Aert third

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 ( 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.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Mathieu Van Der Poel (Ned)1:03:16 
2Laurens Sweeck (Bel)0:00:33 
3Wout Van Aert (Bel)  
4Lars Van Der Haar (Ned)0:01:18 
5Daan Soete (Bel)0:01:39 
6Corne Van Kessel (Ned)0:01:54 
7Tim Merlier (Bel)0:01:55 
8Toon Aerts (Bel)0:01:58 
9Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel)0:02:07 
10Jens Adams (Bel)0:02:40 
11Michael Boroš (Cze)0:02:51 
12Kevin Pauwels (Bel)0:02:58 
13Stephen Hyde (USA)0:03:06 
14Tom Meeusen (Bel)0:03:16 
15Marcel Meisen (Ger)0:03:18 
16Steve Chainel (Fra)0:03:19 
17Diether Sweeck (Bel)0:03:46 
18Gianni Vermeersch (Bel)0:03:51 
19Nicolas Cleppe (Bel)0:03:53 
20Gioele Bertolini (Ita)0:03:55 
21Jim Aernouts (Bel)0:04:15 
22Felipe Orts Lloret (Spa)0:04:22 
23Stan Godrie (Ned)0:04:28 
24Sascha Weber (Ger)0:04:50 
25Simon Zahner (Swi)0:04:52 
26Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibañez (Spa)0:05:07 
27Twan Van Den Brand (Ned)0:05:11 
28Matthieu Boulo (Fra)0:05:14 
29Tomáš Paprstka (Cze)0:05:19 
30David Menut (Fra)0:05:29 
31Severin Sägesser (Swi)0:05:36 
32Ismael Esteban Aguero (Spa)0:05:58 
33Marcel Wildhaber (Swi)0:06:31 
34Klaas Vantornout (Bel)  
35Jan Nesvadba (Cze)  
36Tony Periou (Fra)  
37Nicolas Samparisi (Ita)  
38Arthur Tropardy (Fra)  
39Patrick Van Leeuwen (Ned)  
40Alois Falenta (Fra)  
41Martin Haring (Svk)  
42Francis Mourey (Fra)  
43Lorenzo Samparisi (Ita)  
44Kenneth Hansen (Den)  
45Vincent Dias Dos Santos (Lux)  
46Ondrej Glajza (Svk)  
47Manuel Müller (Ger)  
48Audric Pasquet (Fra)  
49David Eriksson (Swe)  
50Martin Eriksson (Swe)  
51Henrik Jansson (Swe)  
52Garry Millburn (Aus)  
53Yu Takenouchi (Jpn)  
54Andrew Juiliano (USA)  
55Martin Hunal (Cze)  
56Marvin Schmidt (Ger)  
57Wolfram Kurschat (Ger)  
58Daniel Ania Gonzalez (Spa)  
59Jonas Hablitzel (Ger)  
60Ulrich Theobald (Ger)  
61Yannick Mayer (Ger)  
DNFQuinten Hermans (Bel)  
DNFVincent Baestaens (Bel)  
DNFThijs Van Amerongen (Ned)  
DNFDavid Van Der Poel (Ned)  
DNFWietse Bosmans (Bel)  
DNSJoachim Parbo (Den)  


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