Lars van der Haar wins World Cup Valkenburg. © Thomas van Bracht

Lars van der Haar wins World Cup Valkenburg. © Thomas van Bracht

Valkenburg, Netherlands – It looks like the UCI ruling that Lars Van Der Haar (Rabobank Development Team) could make an early switch from U23 to the Elite field was the right move as he took his first win, and now leads the World Cups standings, after the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Valkenburg, Netherlands. Past winners of the World Cup overall Niels Albert and Sven Nys had less luck and have been quoted in the Belgian press as saying that essentially their chances of the overall win are now gone.

Mechanicals were the name of the game, as Current World Champion Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) suffered both a punctured front tire mid-race and a broken chain later on which forced him to abandon. Second place finisher Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team) was also hit with shifting issues and a dropped chain in lap four but managed to hold his position. Van der Haar may have made his case for disc brakes, as the 22-year-old sailed through the race trouble-free. He also just announced that in March, he’ll be riding for Argos-Shimano instead of Rabobank, with a focus on cyclocross, so fans can rejoice at that news.

In the race, the group of 59 starters, including U.S. Cyclocross National Champion Jonathan Page (Fuji-Spy-Competitive Cyclist), held mostly together for the first lap and a half with the major players switching off the front every few turns. By the middle of lap two, however, Van Der Haar, who had maintained a constant presence at the front, decided it was time to break up the group of 15-20 riders that had formed the head of the race and upped the tempo.

Pauwels was first to respond, and slowly closed the gap to Van Der Haar followed by a chase group consisting of Philip Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus), Bart Aernouts (AA Drink Cycling Team) and Klaus Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team).

By lap four, the chase group had swarmed to nine with Nys biding his time at the back waiting for the opportune moment to make his move. Shifting issues and a dropped chain put Pauwels in trouble and he had to dismount to get his bike in working order. After a few tense moments, Pauwels was going again and managed to maintain his position, though by this time Walsleben had created some distance of his own on the group and would soon join Pauwels, but Van der Haar was already off in the distance with a 22 second advantage.

Bad luck struck Nys with a front puncture in the sixth lap just when he had begun to make his acceleration toward the front of the race forcing him to slow down and ride the course conservatively to the pit area. After a bike change and an attempt to move up once again a broken chain proved to be the nail in the coffin. Shouldering his bike, he was forced to walk across the course back to the team area.

Walsleben battled with Pauwels through the last lap but was eventually gapped to finish third, 19 seconds behind the Belgian. Vantornout and Aernouts emerged from the chase group to finish fourth and fifth respectively.

In the women’s field Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv/giant) dominated the race despite news of an upcoming back surgery, creating a gap from the start and holding on for the win. In her typical dominant fashion, by the end of the first lap, Vos had established a 17-second lead over the chase group consisting of US Cyclocross National Champion Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective), European Cyclocross Champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team), British Cyclocross National Champion Nikki Harris (Team Flexpoint) and France’s Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (Faren).

Compton managed to separate herself from the chase group in the second lap but by that time the gap to Vos had increased to 38 seconds. Vos refused to let up, continuing the pressure on Compton and increasing her lead to 1:35 at the finish.

British riders Wyman and Harris battled it out for the third spot on the podium with Harris victorious, finishing 1:52 behind the leader. Wyman, and chase group member Ferrier-Bruneau rounded out the top five spots.

Among the top 20 finishers n the women’s field were Americans Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld.com) in 13th, Arley Kemmerer (C3-Twenty20 Cycling) six seconds behind Antonneau in 15th and Meredith Miller (CalGiant-Specialized) in 17th. CXM corespondent Christine Varados (Stevens) finished 39th.

In the U23 race, American rider Logan Owen (CalGiant-Specialized) raced his first U23 World Cup and finished 21st, 3:18 behind the Belgian winner Michael Vanthourenhout, who also recently aged out of the 17-18 race. Wout Van Aert, also from Belgium, finished second 20 seconds behind the leader, and Mathieu Van Der Poel of the Netherlands crossed third just behind Van Der Poel.

Americans Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Tobin Ortenblad (CalGiant-Specialized) also competed in the U23 race finishing one lap down.

Stay tuned as round two of the Cyclocross World Cup continues on October 26 in Tabor, Czech Republic, and check out our initial race report with photos and results.