Returning to Tabor, the site of his last world championship title, Mathieu van der Poel must have arrived with tires filled with confidence. After crushing his competition at Superprestige Gavere and DVV Trofee Soudal Jaarmarktcross Niel, the European champ has been on a roll.
Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux Bingoal) crossed the border and entered into the Czech Republic looking for redemption. The Worlds silver medalist took another silver at the Koppenberg, but had a disastrous Superprestige Gavere that ended in a DNF.
For World Champ Wout van Aert (Cebel – Cibon Offroad Team), the biggest question was whether he could find some extra form in this race-heavy period of the season. Lately, at the biggest races, he’s been a reliable fixture on the men’s podium, but a longshot for the win.
And for Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea), owner of the World Cup leader’s jersey thanks to wins in the U.S. and a third back in Europe in Bern, the biggest question was could he keep the white and red threads and hold off Van Aert?
Hairpins, Grass, and No Mud
If there was reason for Aerts to be confident in Tabor, it was that the course appeared more American than the typical heavy Belgian affair. The nearly all-grass course that weaved up and down around a small hill with brief dips into the woods might remind some older fans of the Fort Devens, Mass. venue used for the 1998 USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals, even down to the hoppable uphill barriers.
Like the Devens course, the Tabor track offered spectators a spectacular view of the racing from the top of the hill, and relied on fencing to keep the riders moving up, down and around the site.
If any of the men were paying attention to the women’s World Cup race in Tabor earlier in the day, they might have expected fast, pack-style racing on the fast course. Only one small hill, right after a set of concrete stairs, proved to be a technical challenge for racers not near the front on lap one.
Could group racing and a dry, fast course prove be the kryptonite for this season’s Superman?
Anyone’s Race, for a Lap
While Van der Poel wasted no time hitting the front of the race, his blistering first few straights simply confirmed his rivals were ready for the fireworks. Aerts, Van Aert, Vanthourenhout and Daan Soete (Pauwels Sauzen – Vastgoedservice) were in his draft, content to let the European champ do all the work.
“On the first lap I tried to get the pace high, but I looked back and there were lots of people on the wheel and I thought it was gonna be close racing all day,” Van der Poel recalled.
Ready for a long, tactical battle, Van der Poel was content to let World Cup leader Aerts take to the front and lead the rest of the lap.
Behind, Van Aert and Soete held on, while Aert’s teammates Quinten Hermans and Lars van der Haar looked to join the leaders and outnumber the others.
One Costly Bobble
On lap two, Van der Poel resumed his position at the front, and on a tricky, right-hand turn into an uphill, Aerts went wide and had to dab. Vanthourenhout squeezed by, Van Aert was held up, and suddenly, the day’s pack racing was over.
Van der Poel hit the gas, Vanthourenhout saw daylight over the rest, and the rest were looking up at a third-place ceiling.
Aert’s dab proved costly for his chances at gold, but delivered the silver lining of two teammates in Hermans and Van der Haar.
Van Aert, riding one chainring SRAM eTap and leading a one-man program, looked off his game. While Telenet Fidea powered the chase of the leading two, the reigning World Champ slid back, caught by fifth-row starter Joris Nieuwenhuis (Sunweb) and Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen – Vastgoedservice). At risk was his chance of taking the World Cup leader’s jersey, or at least defending his second place standing.
Get in the Van, V2
Van der Poel, once he got a gap, hit top speed, stretching out his lead from 11 seconds after 2 laps to 20 seconds and then 35 seconds over Vanthourenhout in 3 consecutive laps.
Vanthourenhout gave it his all to stay within reach, but soon his focus was on keeping second, with Van der Haar breathing down his neck. The diminutive Dutchman made contact with two laps to go and passed the Belgian before hitting the barriers for the penultimate time.
Van der Haar ran the uphill barriers, one of the few in the top 20 to do so, while Vanthourenhout deftly hopped the barriers, pouncing with his hands on the flats of his bars. When he emerged, he was back in front of Van der Haar, and made mental note of his advantage.
Entering the final lap, Vanthourenhout was content to do the work if it meant he’d have a clear path to the barriers. He sprinted to the turn, hopped both planks, and left Van der Haar in the backseat of the three-seat Van.
Up front, the driver already had it in neutral. A 35-second lead shrank to 14 as he jogged the barriers on the final lap, just as Vanthourenhout hit the turbo button in attempt to drop Van der Haar.
The confetti cannon popped, Van der Poel gave his solute, and the Czech fans wondered how much he even tried.
“You can never win a race on an easy pace,” Van der Poel explained, but admitted he’s enjoying good form. “I’m happy with the feeling again. The course here in Tabor is really something that suits me well, and I’m happy to get the win.”
Aerts kept his leader’s jersey, thanks in part to teammate Herman’s teamwork, and Van Aerts seventh-place finish.
Van der Poel has made it two-for-two in his World Cup starts. What once seemed like an insurmountable lead now doesn’t look impossible to close if Van der Poel continues this streak and keeps Aerts and Van Aert off the podium.
Next week’s World Cup in Koksijde could make things even more interesting. Stay tuned.
2018 World Cup Tabor Cyclocross World Cup Results: Elite Men
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Age||Result|
|1||20||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||23||1:02:43|
|3||22||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||27||1:03:03|
|13||23||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||26||1:04:20|
|40||27||VAN DER MEER||Gosse||NED||23||1:06:54|