In his fourth race after undergoing surgery on his left knee, cyclo-cross World champion Mathieu Van Der Poel captured his first victory of the season on Sunday afternoon. In Overijse, Belgium, the 20-year-old Dutch rider won solo ahead of Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) on a dry but tough course.
When crossing the finish line, Van der Poel pointed to his left knee in true Johan Museeuw-style. On the famous Roubaix vélodrome Johan Museeuw made the gesture when he won Paris-Roubaix in 2000 after overcoming major problems due to a knee injury.
“Like Museeuw,” Van der Poel told Sporza when asked about his gesture. “His injury was worse than mine but I thought about it recently. The recovery process was especially hard on the mental front. It’s fun to come back the way I did. It makes up for the suffering. I’m very glad to have taken the win today.”
The Druivencross is a classic cyclo-cross race with a history that goes back to 1960. The undulating course demands no artificial obstacles and only allows for strong riders to win. In 2001 the ‘mother of all cyclo-cross races’ left the Superprestige series. This time around, though, the independent organization failed to attract many prolific riders. Major absentees were crowd favourite Sven Nys but also Wout Van Aert, Lars van der Haar and Saturday’s star Zdenek Stybar.
Van der Poel didn’t mind their absence as he was pleased to be back in the races after his surgery in early October. In Overijse he slipped away at the start line and hit the first ascent of the 2,500 metres course outside the top 10. In front, Michael Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) went full gas, creating a gap on the rest of the field. Van der Poel trailed the leader after the opening lap by 15 seconds. During the second lap, Meeusen took over the command on the climbs and only Vanthourenhout was able to keep up. Meanwhile, Van der Poel was still fighting his way through traffic, climbing his way into the top 10.
Meeusen kept going full gas on the unforgiving course, with Vanthourenhout working hard to hold his wheel. Nevertheless, Van der Poel managed to bridge up to the leaders in the fourth lap together with a clearly struggling Kevin Pauwels. Vanthourenhout took over the command, probably in support of Pauwels but the latter quickly got dropped again after a technical mistake.
During the fifth of nine laps, Van der Poel unleashed his devils. The Dutch rider was smashing up the climbs like a monster truck. Surprisingly, Meeusen and Vanthourenhout managed to hang on for a long time. For half a lap this show continued and clearly these riders were hitting the red zone. Slowly Van der Poel was creating a gap. In a desperate attempt to stay in touch with the World champion, Meeusen tried to hop over a ditch, an effort that was only partly successful.
“I couldn’t care anymore. I was going much faster through every corner and climb than I thought was possible but still I got dropped. It was the only way to get back on him. I’d love to have gone with him but was dropped. I received a mental blow after that,” Meeusen told Sporza.
Also Vanthourenhout was dropped but then Van der Poel dropped his chain. In contrast to Saturday’s race in Essen, where he broke his derailleur in the penultimate lap, he was able to get back on his bike. “I thought it was over. I was going over my limits with my acceleration but I wanted to win so bad,” Van der Poel said.
He rejoined the race in fourth position, just behind Pauwels and a few seconds behind Meeusen and Vanthourenhout. This duo was still gasping for air after trying to follow Van der Poel. In no time Van der Poel and Pauwels bridged up to them, just like Tim Merlier (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace). Belgian champion Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) was only a few seconds further back.
Van der Poel only needed half a lap to recover. He attacked again in the sixth lap when climbing towards the second pit zone in the Mariëndal park. This time Vanthourenhout quickly looked back. Merlier switched bikes. Meeusen briefly tried to keep up while Pauwels maintained his own rhythm.
Credit to Meeusen for aiming high but he paid the price for it. He lost nearly half a minute in one lap and was passed by Pauwels. The latter was no match for Van der Poel though. Pauwels lost about five seconds in each of the remaining laps. Meeusen held on to his third place. Merlier beat Vantornout for fourth place. Young Gianni Vermeersch (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) rode a steady race and passed his teammate Michael Vanthourenhout in the closing laps, finishing sixth.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mathieu Van Der Poel (Ned) Bkcp-Corendon||1:03:01|
|2||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb Napoleon Games Cycling||0:00:19|
|3||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet Fidea Cycling Team||0:00:35|
|4||Tim Merlier (Bel) Vastgoedservice Golden Palace||0:00:44|
|5||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb Napoleon Games Cycling||0:00:48|
|6||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Sunweb Napoleon Games Cycling||0:01:15|
|7||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Sunweb Napoleon Games Cycling||0:01:42|
|8||Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Telenet Fidea Cycling Team||0:01:51|
|9||Marcel Meisen (Ger) Corendon-Kwadro||0:02:00|
|10||Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Cycling Team||0:02:08|
|11||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Cycling Team||0:02:10|
|12||Jens Vandekinderen (Bel) Kalas-Noff||0:02:31|
|13||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) Sunweb Napoleon Games Cycling||0:02:40|
|14||Michael Boros (Cze) Bkcp-Corendon||0:02:49|
|15||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Bkcp-Corendon||0:03:17|
|16||Niels Wubben (Ned) Westland Wil Vooruit||0:03:39|
|17||Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Vastgoedservice Golden Palace||0:03:48|
|18||David Van Der Poel (Ned) Bkcp-Corendon||0:04:31|
|19||Patrick Van Leeuwen (Ned) Orange Babies||0:05:14|
|20||Bart Hofman (Bel) Nodrugs Heroes Flanders|
|21||Kenneth Van Compernolle (Bel) Colba Superano Ham||-1|
|22||Michiel Van Der Heijden (Ned) Scott-Odlo|
|23||Michael Van Den Ham (Can) Red Truck-Garneau P/B Easton C|
|24||Vinnie Braet (Bel) Colba Superano Ham|
|25||Dave De Cleyn (Bel) Cycling Team Zemst Vzw||-2|
|26||Garry Millburn (Aus) Peloton Sports Inc|
|27||Mark Mcconnell (Can) Hot Sauce Cc|
|28||Kristaps Kipurs (Lat) Ct Pajuris||-6|
|DNF||Julien Taramarcaz (Swi) Era Real Estate - Murprotec|
|DNF||Rob Peeters (Bel) Vastgoedservice Golden Palace|
|DNF||Joeri Adams (Bel) Vastgoedservice Golden Palace|
|DNF||Quincy Vens (Bel) Colba Superano Ham|