Lars van der Haar - 2011 U23 Cyclocross World Championships

Lars van der Haar attacked early and sprinted late to win the U23 title © Bart Hazen

As the sun warmed up the slick, icy conditions from the Junior World Championship race, the 50 U23 riders shot off the line and into their one-hour pursuit of the rainbow jersey. Around the running track and through the first set of barriers, Italy’s Elia Silvestri led the rest of the world’s fastest Espoirs. As the racers hit the run-up, it was clear that the glass-like ice from earlier had thawed, giving the riders a bit more for their wheels to grab on to and keeping the pack tightly together. Coming around the back half of the first lap, Swiss racer Arnaud Grand took to the front and set the pace. Without the early carnage of crashes, which we saw string out the Junior racers, the front end stayed bunched, with a large pack of riders taking advantage of the wide course. Among them, American Danny Summerhill sat in the top 10, with Zach McDonald not far behind.

The Attacks Begin

Coming out of a turn halfway through the second lap, Grand went down while in the lead, and with the ensuing tangle the pack began to spread out, with Joeri Adams (Belgium) taking over the work at the front.

From this smaller group, Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) tried an attack to distance himself from the group, but the pack, led by Jim Aernouts (Belgium), quickly pulled him back into the fold. The group reformed until Aernouts clipped a wooden stake at the top of the off-camber ride- / run-up and crashed headfirst into the ground, momentarily breaking the group up. However, the fast, open conditions of the course soon brought riders back together, and the group of nine riders soon ballooned to over 20, spearheaded by Italy’s Matteo Trenton. Noticeably absent now was Summerhill, who flatted and had dropped back to 25th place.

That same wooden stake at the top of the off-camber hill would prove to be the nemesis of the Belgian team, as racers attempted to stay on the bike and hug the inside line, but a Belgian magnet resulted in head-over-heels crashes and cartwheeling blurs of blue kits with black, yellow and red stripes on four separate occasions.

The race leaders near the beginning of the second lap ©Dan Seaton

The race leaders near the beginning of the second lap ©Dan Seaton

On the third lap, Joeri Adams, Lars van der Haar, and France’s Matthieu Boulo attempted to establish a small lead, but the riders continued to have difficulty creating separation on this open course. With four laps to go, Boulo launched a hard attack as he came onto the track, but Belgian Wietse Bosmans reeled him back in with the rest of the group on his heels. As the group regathered, a Dutch rider sitting roughly 10 spots back went down coming out of a turn, causing a four rider pile-up which once again spread out the riders, creating a small lead group of six, led by former World Champ Tijmen Eising (Netherlands). As the course continued to turn into a sloppy mess, Zach McDonald used his technical skills to hold his spot in the top 20, with Summerhill slowly clawing his way back up to him.

An emotional Valentin Scherz after the best race of his life ©Dan Seaton

An emotional Valentin Scherz after the best race of his life ©Dan Seaton

With three laps to go, the lead group was still over 10 riders strong, led now by Valentin Scherz, the Swiss rider who has been hanging out state-side for the past few ’cross seasons and terrorizing the Mid-Atlantic with his prowess. Tijmen Eising continued to drive the pace, stretching out the riders and opening up a small gap. With two laps to go, the lead group was down to eight riders, now led again by van der Haar.

Interesting “Team” Tactics

Tijmen Eising leads the break with two laps to go © Bart Hazen

Tijmen Eising leads the break with two laps to go © Bart Hazen

Coming into the last lap, the lead group held roughly 10 riders, with Jimmy Turgis (France), Vinnie Braet (Belgium), Boulo, Karel Hnik (Czech Republic) among them. With less than half a lap to go, Mike Teunissen (Netherlands) launched an incredible attack and quickly gained a strong lead. Indeed, his gap looked so insurmountable that we here at CXM penciled his name into our story title! However, Teunissen’s teammate, Tijmen Eising, decided that the earlier team tactics of trading pulls and attacks was no longer on the table, and began chasing hard. He pulled Teunissen within striking distance with van der Haar and Hnik in tow, just as the riders hit the running track. That was when van der Haar unleashed an explosive sprint, passing both teammates and taking the rainbow jersey.

“I was surprised that Eising closed the gap – but he did,” van der Haar told Belgian television station Sporza.

Teunissen, for his part, didn’t care that the riders weren’t one cohesive unit. When asked about Eising’s chase, Teunissen said, “I don’t know his story, I haven’t had time to talk with him, but I don’t really care. I’m happy with my place.”

Mr. Consistency Stands Tall

The U23 podium (left to right): Mike Teunissen, Lars van der Haar and Karel Hnik

The U23 podium (left to right): Mike Teunissen, Lars van der Haar and Karel Hnik © Bart Hazen

“I can’t think of a better season, four jerseys to win and I won them all,” he said, referring to his previous European Championship, Dutch National and World Cup overall titles. “Every year I show I’m good all year,” the newly-crowned winner told Cyclocross Magazine. “I made big progression this year and showed I can keep the same level all year – that’s a big advantage. I know all the guys at the front, I know what they can do. When they went to the front I knew what they would be able to do, maybe that helped me. I expected there to be a big group [at the front of the race] because there is first a climb, then another tight climb, because of the track I knew it would be a group of four to seven guys. All the time you have to stay alert. My start was average, I lost my pedal, but got it back quickly and was into the field in maybe fifth, I’m happy with that. I knew if you were too far behind, it would be too hard to get back because the course is so slippery and there were so many crashes.”

“I’m disappointed,” said Teunissen. “I was really tired by the end, I couldn’t make it to the finish. I knew Lars was too fast, so I sprinted for silver.”

“It was a very difficult course,” said third place Karel Hnik. “I started maybe 15th and got better and better, but then I had a flat before the end. I knew I had to sprint and I’m very happy with my place.”

American Pride

Danny Summerhill launches a solo chase after an early flat ©Dan Seaton

Danny Summerhill launches a solo chase after an early flat ©Dan Seaton

American U23 champ Summerhill, for his part, rode like a man possessed late in the race, and put in scorching lap times to make amends for his flat tire, eventually finishing in a solid 13th place in his finale as a U23.

“After my flat tire, I thought, that was nice while it lasted,” Summerhill reflected. “I thought the same thing when I crashed as a Junior but went on to get the silver, but this time I didn’t get to finish as high up. But I was pleased. The little amount of stress definitely paid off for me. Now its time to go home, take a little rest then play on my road bike in the sun.”

When asked what he changed in his preparation this year over his preparation for the 2010 U23 World Championships in Tabor, where he finished 29th, Summerhill explained it was all mental. “Just trying to stay relaxed and mellow, I think that makes all the difference in my racing,” he said. “I came into all the other Worlds just as prepared as I was this time, but I was too high-strung and too stressed out. But this time I was relaxed and took it blow by blow and had a good day. Even though I could have finished higher up had I not flatted, I was still pleased with my result, and pleased to be here!”

Zach McDonald was the second best placed American, in 23rd, while Cody Kaiser and Jerome Townsend finished in 36th and 39th, respectively. McDonald told Cyclocross Magazine, “I’m glad my season’s over…I’m happy with it, but towards the end I was getting a little burnt but definitely happier than I was last weekend. This is my fourth year, so I’m used to the stress and excitement of being at Worlds.”

Like a seasoned pro, McDonald doesn’t forget to mention those who make this experience possible for him. “I’m mainly thankful to all those who helped me get here – Rapha, Focus, all my local supporters, all those who came out to my fundraiser, my parents, everyone,” the collegiate national champion said. “Without them it wouldn’t be possible to be here – same with the last three years.”

Highlights and Reactions

Hometown favorite German rider Marcel Meisen had a strong ride, digging deep in front of his home crowd to just barely cling to the back of the lead group. He’d eventually finish just outside of the top 10, in 11th.

Shut out of podium spot for the second race of the day, the cyclocross powerhouse country of Belgium had to be disappointed, but the national coach was philosophical about his team’s performance.

“I’m not really disappointed,” Rudy de Bie told Cyclocross Magazine. “They had some bad luck, a lot of punctures, but I think we have five people out of the first 12 riders. During the race they were very present. It was a very enjoyable race, but the big prizes are only given on the finish.”

As for his thoughts on the Elite men tomorrow, “The big boys are going to ride even harder but it will be necessary if you want the win.” When asked about the big Belgian plan for teamwork, De Bie surmised, “We will see that tomorrow. “

Sixth place Witse Bosmans of Belgium had high expectations, but was not upset with his top 10. “I’m happy, but I was in front a little too early – the finish was still very far and I had to do that whole straight section by myself, and I went a little too deep on the climb after that,” he told Cyclocross Magazine. “Then Teunissen came and passed me full speed while I was trying to recover a bit. Then the rest came back, but I couldn’t get it back anymore. At the stairs, you had to already be in a good spot, but I was a little bit too far [back]. It’s a pity, but I’m very happy that I showed I have something in me. I gave color to the race and all that despite a hard crash into a pole in the first lap at the pits, and it took two or three laps to get over that crash. I hurt my hand and knee.”

We asked the 19 year-old new U23 world champion van der Haar what was next for him. “To ride more, win more,” he replied. “There’s still some places to get better – I need a bit more power. Next year [Arnaud] Jouffroy is back, so that will be hard.” [ed. Jouffroy, last year’s U23 champ, ended his season in mid-December with a knee injury.]

Photo Gallery:

Full Results:

U23 Men: 8 Laps, 22.67 km
1 Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) 0:52:01
2 Mike Teunissen (Netherlands) at 0:01
3 Karel Hnik (Czech Republic) s.t.
4 Matthieu Boulo (France) 0:03
5 Tijmen Eising (Netherlands) 0:04
6 Wietse Bosmans (Belgium) 0:07
7 Valentin Scherz (Switzerland) 0:13
8 Joeri Adams (Belgium) 0:24
9 Jimmy Turgis (France) s.t.
10 Vincent Baestaens (Belgium) 0:30
11 Marcel Meisen (Germany) 0:36
12 Irwin Gras (France) 0:39
13 Danny Summerhill (United States of America) 0:42
14 Vinnie Braet (Belgium) 0:58
15 Marek Konwa (Poland) 1:01
16 Twan van den Brand (Netherlands) s.t.
17 Kenneth Hansen (Denmark) 1:24
18 Mirko Tabacchi (Italy) s.t.
19 Tomas Paprstka (Czech Republic) 1:34
20 Jim Aernouts (Belgium) 1:54
21 Michael Boros (Czech Republic) 2:13
22 Jon Ander Insausti Irastorza (Spain) 2:16
23 Zach McDonald (United States of America) 2:21
24 Ole Quast (Germany) 2:35
25 Michael Winterberg (Switzerland) 2:37
26 Kenta Gallagher (Great Britain) 2:40
27 Arnaud Grand (Switzerland) 3:15
28 Max Walsleben (Germany) 3:28
29 Micki van Empel (Netherlands) 3:35
30 Michael Schweizer (Germany) 4:14
31 Vincent Dias Dos Santos (Luxembourg) 4:17
32 Jan Nesvadba (Czech Republic) 4:18
33 Matteo Trentin (Italy) 4:20
34 Alexander Gehbauer (Austria) 5:03
35 Jesper Dahlström (Sweden) 5:05
36 Cody Kaiser ( United States of America) s.t.
37 Lubomir Petrus (Czech Republic) 5:22
38 Daniel Ruiz Etxeandia (Spain) 5:36
39 Jerome Townsend ( United States of America) 5:46
40 Lukas Müller (Switzerland) -1 Lap
41 Eduard Michael Grosu (Romania) -1 Lap
42 Pit Schlechter (Luxembourg) -1 Lap
43 Luke Gray (Great Britain) -2 Laps
44 Wojciech Herba (Poland) -2 Laps
45 Fabian Danner (Germany) -2 Laps
46 Elia Silvestri (Italy) -3 Laps
47 Bartosz Pilis (Poland) -3 Laps
DNF Gert-Jan Bosman (Netherlands)
DNF Luca Braidot (Italy)
DNF Alex Kirsch (Luxembourg)