It took over a month into the 2017/18 season for a barnburner to break out among Europe’s best in a Men’s race, but on Sunday in the DVV Verzekeringen Trofee Hotondcross in Ronse, the wait was well worth it.

On a fast, technical course that lived up the translation “field riding,” Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) was unable to get away early, and the bike race was afoot. Midway through the race, Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles) tried to break the race apart with a massive attack, and for a period, only Van der Poel was able to mirror his move. Would it be the first Beautiful Duel of the new season?

Wout van Aert attacked midway through the race. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 - GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Wout van Aert attacked midway through the race. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 – GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions) said no, not today. The Dutchman closed the gap, and as the race entered its latter stages, everyone in Ronse and watching at home knew Van der Poel’s big attack was coming soon.

The Dutch wunderkind did not disappoint. He ripped up a small incline and almost instantaneously opened up a five-second gap. Unlike previous races, on Sunday, the late attack to a solo victory did not happen. Van Aert and Van der Haar closed and entering the last three laps, it was anyone’s race.

Would Van Aert or Van der Poel have another attack in their legs, or was Van der Haar waiting to unleash an attack of his own and score a breakthrough victory after a several recent podium close calls?

A Ronse Party at the Front

Early on in Sunday’s race, the field strung out in line through the steep off-cambers and swoopy technical sections on the course set on a hillside field. Van der Poel got stuck back in eighth position after the holeshot, so there would be no frenetic attack and chase to kick off the hour of racing.

Several different riders led the field during the first three laps, including Daan Soete (Telenet Fidea Lions), who was looking to use his breakout ride at World Cup Waterloo to propel himself to the front of the European field.

The course at Ronse was set in a grassy field with a lot of elevation change. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 - GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

The course at Ronse was set in a grassy field with a lot of elevation change. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 – GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Soete and teammate Corne van Kessel faded in the third lap, and when three of ten laps were in the books, the lead selection was seven. In the mix were Van der Poel, Van Aert, Van der Haar, Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus), Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games), Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) and Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games).

Riders in the lead selection looked determined to neutralize Van der Poel’s technical gifts by denying him the front spot where ever possible. When the group rolled through the start/finish, Van der Poel hopped out of the saddle to initiate an attack, but Vanthourenhout caught the move and quickly covered the Dutch phenom’s attempt. The move may have been a feint since it was early by Van der Poel’s standards, but it was one of several moments when riders worked to contain the young star.

Things Open Up

With so much firepower in the lead selection of seven, it was unlikely to last forever. Van Aert made sure of that when he unleashed an attack up a long incline along a narrow paved path about 3/4 of the way through the lap.

The attack worked.  Van der Poel mirrored his move, but the other riders looked broken. The gap gained by the move was nine seconds. Were fans in for the first legitimate Beautiful Duel of the young season?

Van Aert and Van der Poel battled in the midpart of the race and at the end. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 - GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Van Aert and Van der Poel battled in the midpart of the race and at the end. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 – GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Toon Aerts had other ideas. During the fifth lap, Van der Poel bobbled on an off-camber and Van Aert opened up a bit of a gap. They came back together after some deft use of physics by Van der Poel, but the combination of the mistake and gaming each other out allowed Aerts to close the gap. The young Belgian made the catch on the run-up after blasting into it and carrying enough momentum into the incline to gain several seconds on the two riders at the front.

The next lap, Aerts went to the front to do his part to hold Van der Poel at bay. Unfortunately for him, the work at the front broke him and he dropped back while teammate Van der Haar surged. Inside four to go, it was Van der Poel, Van Aert and Van der Haar.

The laps were counting down and Van der Poel’s time to attack was drawing nigh.

Thrust, Parry. Thrust … Parry?

Van der Poel’s attack came inside four to go at the literal halfway point of the lap. He exploded up a small incline from second wheel and instantly opened up a gap. Boom, goes the dynamite.

The attack was so swift and strong, it nearly ended when he momentarily slipped on the steep, sweeping off-camber a few hundred meters from where he attacked. Van der Poel used his deft handling to recover, and the gap was big enough to make it appear he was off for another solo adventure.

Van Aert and Van der Haar showed they had other plans for the afternoon. Van Aert again used the false flat power section to his advantage and closed the gap to his Dutch wunderrival.

With three to go, the caravan was three.

Van Aert and Van der Haar parried Van der Poel’s thrust. Now, inside three to go, who had enough left to attack again? Van Aert and Van der Poel had already done work, but had Van der Haar lit too many matches trying to close to the two young phenoms?

Thus far this season, Van der Haar has expressed frustration about small mistakes or missed opportunities in races so far this season. On Sunday, all that frustration appeared to explode into his pedals when, with two laps to go, he pulled to the left side of the finishing straight and unleashed a massive attack. The gap was quickly seven seconds.

Were Van der Poel and Van Aert spent? Did they think they could catch the attack? Whichever the case, their pursuit lacked the appropriate sense of urgency to match Van der Haar’s full commitment to his effort. Van der Poel slipped on an off-camber to cost the chase precious seconds, and the trio behind them eventually caught up.

Lars van der Haar rode solo the last two laps. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 - GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Lars van der Haar rode solo the last two laps. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 – GP Mario De Clercq © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Van der Haar’s lead was 34 seconds. The new chase was five: Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pauwels, Vanthourenhout and Aerts.

Van der Haar’s lead was not threatened for the rest of the race. The win was his first since taking the Hoogerheide World Cup earlier this calendar year.

Lars van der Haar attacked late to win in Ronse. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 - GP Mario De Clercq© B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Lars van der Haar attacked late to win in Ronse. 2017 Cyclocross DVV Verzekeringen Trofee #1 – GP Mario De Clercq© B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

The chase rode to parity for much of the laatste ronde. Things again were animated on the slight incline on the path. Seemingly on cue, all four riders still in the group—Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pauwels and Aerts—stood up and sprinted for the end of the section. Van Aert and Van der Poel were rewarded with the top two spots heading into the final sprint.

The two got to re-live some of their summer road sprints, although this time the prize was only second. Van Aert went first, but Van der Poel bided his time and got the jump on his expended rival to have enough to take second. Pauwels finished fourth and Aerts fifth.

Next Up from Europe

The next race slated for coverage here at Cyclocross Magazine is the iconic Superprestige Zonhoven next Sunday.

Men's Results - 2017 Hotondcross Ronse - DVV Verzekeringen Trofee

RankBIBLast NameFirst NameCountryTeamAgeTime
19VAN DER HAARLarsNEDTELENET FIDEA LIONS2658:55
22VAN DER POELMathieuNEDBEOBANK-CORENDON2259:15
31VAN AERTWoutBELCRELAN - CHARLES2359:16
43PAUWELSKevinBELMARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES3359:17
58AERTSToonBELTELENET FIDEA LIONS2459:19
67VANTHOURENHOUTMichaelBELMARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES2459:42
714ADAMSJensBELPAUWELS SAUZEN - VASTGOEDSERVICE2559:56
819VANTHOURENHOUTDieterBELMARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES321:00:18
94SWEECKLaurensBELERA-CIRCUS241:00:26
105VAN KESSELCorneNEDTELENET FIDEA LIONS261:00:33
1112BOROŠMichaelCZEPAUWELS SAUZEN - VASTGOEDSERVICE251:01:11
1210MERLIERTimBELCRELAN - CHARLES251:01:35
1316WALSLEBENPhilippGERBEOBANK-CORENDON301:02:02
1417SOETEDaanBELTELENET FIDEA LIONS231:02:17
156MEEUSENTomBELBEOBANK-CORENDON291:02:23
1613AERNOUTSJimBELTELENET FIDEA LIONS281:02:30
1721PEETERSRobBELPAUWELS SAUZEN - VASTGOEDSERVICE321:03:18
1826MEISENMarcelGERSTEYLAERTS - BETFIRST281:03:51
1925VAN DER MEERGosseNED221:04:08
11VERMEERSCHGianniBELSTEYLAERTS - BETFIRST25DNF
20VANTORNOUTKlaasBELMARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES35DNF
22BOSMANSWietseBELERA-CIRCUS26DNF