An uber-techy course, combined with quickly-drying course conditions and a bit of warm sunshine mixed things up for the final race of the Soudal Classics Series: the Elite Men’s race in Leuven, Belgium. Featuring a mind-boggling number of ditches, windy chicane descents, steep rooty run-ups, barriers, a fly-over, and a long, grueling uphill pavement section, this course is a technically-adept rider’s dream.

Laurens Sweeck (ERA Circus) set the mood of the race by railing for the holeshot and manualing over a significant ditch right out of the gate. Cresting the first “little” hill, Sweeck got airborne, showing the speed at which riders were ramming their bikes into course features.

Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) was spotted in 7th place as the leaders came through the barrier section, bunnyhopping them, of course. Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles), who was sounding worn down by the long season coming into Leuven, was a few spots back.

Were Van der Poel and Van Aert tired from a season of total domination, or just sitting back and letting fresh blood take control for once? Van Aert, still seeking his first win after his World Championship defense, looked fatigued, hovering around tenth place for most of the race. At the end of the first lap, there was a 12-man pack leading the charge and posting six-minute lap times with Sweeck keeping tabs on everyone around him.

Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) made a push for first position, cranking hard and manualing over the signature ditch, gapping the rest of the pack. Many riders chose to avoid the jarring landing and instead rode through the ditch this lap. Jens Adams (Pauwels sauzen – Vastgoedservice) fell prey to the deceivingly dry corners of the steep chicane descents, going down hard and lingering on the ground long enough to draw help from the crowd. Adams wasn’t alone in frustrating carnage: Philipp Walsleben (Beobank – Corendon) suffered a dropped chain on the signature Leuven grassy knoll, losing several spots in the process.

Out of nowhere, Van der Poel snuck into the lead. He leaned far over the side of his bike, railing the wide turns and zooming into the steep run-ups. Fellow Stevens rider, Sweeck, was right on his wheel, and the duo attempted to gap the set of Marlux twins behind them: Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) and Vanthourenhout. Between the two duos, the field was falling apart, and despite Tom Meeusen’s (Telenet Fidea Lions) valiant efforts, they could not be reeled back in.

From then on, it was team tactics and mind games. Sweeck and Van der Poel motioned for Pauwels to pull through on the paved section, and when he ultimately did, he set a pace that gapped Van der Poel. Appearing to show signs of cracking, Van der Poel double dabbed before dismounting as he went up the first steep, dry run-up. Van der Poel went through the pit, exchanging his bike, then riding a blazing fast lap to catch back on. He draped his forearms over his bars, wrapping his hands around the inside of the drops, laying down serious power as he re-entered the paved straightaways.

Vanthourenhout seemed to be enjoying the games that he and Pauwels were playing with Sweeck. He smiled as they worked up the slight incline, keeping Sweeck in front, working overtime. While the Marlux-Napoleon boys were toying with Sweeck, Van der Poel had a chance to close his gap, sitting only a few seconds back coming into the barriers, where he ultimately caught back on.

Meanwhile, Van Aert appeared to struggle to hang onto the back of the chase group, perhaps having used all of his mental strength at Worlds.

Vanthourenhout launched the final Marlux-Napoleon Games attack, coming around Sweeck as they left the pavement on the final lap, and setting an even more grueling pace. He gave the lead to Pauwels, then held back on the grassy knoll, in what looked like a teammate’s attempt to spread the group apart. Sweeck and Van Der Poel were not having it, and they swung around to catch Pauwels’ wheel. Sweeck had to play catch up, but Van Der Poel had grabbed ahold of Pauwels by the time they reached the table-tops. Van Der Poel whipped around Pauwels as they wound through the leaf and stick-covered woods section.

Sweeck shifted down, got into the drops, and took the lead position coming into the sprint. Head down, Van Der Poel swung wide and over-powered Sweeck and Pauwels for the streamer-soaked win, Pauwels grabbing second, and Sweeck crossing the line in third.

With the win, Mathieu van der Poel continued his undefeated streak after his flat-plagued Worlds ride, while Wout van Aert still seeks his first win in his 2017 World Championship jersey.

2017 Soudal Classics Leuven Men’s Race Video Highlights:

2017 Soudal Classics Leuven Results - Elite Men

1Mathieu Van der PoelBeobank-Corendon0:57:41
2Kevin PauwelsMarlux-Napoleon Games0:00:00
3Laurens SweeckERA-Circus0:00:00
4Michael VanthourenhoutMarlux-Napoleon Games0:00:20
5Gianni VermeerschTeam Steylaerts0:00:26
6Jim AernoutsTelenet Fidea Lions0:00:29
7Tom MeeusenTelenet Fidea Lions0:00:31
8Vincent BaestaensBeobank-Corendon0:00:31
9Lars Van Der HaarTeam Giant-Alpecin0:00:40
10Wout Van AertCrelan-Charles0:00:58
11Quinten HermansTelenet Fidea Lions0:01:12
12Wietse BosmansBeobank-Corendon0:01:19
13Klaas VantornoutMarlux-Napoleon Games0:01:28
14Diether SweeckERA-Circus0:01:31
15Dieter VanthourenhoutMarlux-Napoleon Games0:01:36
16Corne Van KesselTelenet Fidea Lions0:01:57
17Felipe Orts0:02:08
18Thijs AertsTelenet Fidea Lions0:02:14
19Joeri AdamsKalas-NNOF0:02:14
20Julien TaramarcazERA-Circus0:02:23
21Nicolas CleppeTelenet Fidea Lions0:02:53
22Rob PeetersCrelan-Charles0:02:57
23David Van der PoelBeobank-Corendon0:03:24
24Michael BorosERA-Circus0:03:47
25Lander Loockx0:03:56
26Bart Hofman0:03:56
27Gert Smets0:04:06
28Philipp WalslebenBeobank-Corendon0:04:13
29Jens VandekinderenKalas-NNOF0:04:39
30Seppe Rombouts0:04:57
31Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga IbanezMMR CX Team0:05:23
32Wesley Floren0:05:37