Last year, Mathieu van der Poel’s (Beobank-Corendon) trip to the Koppenberg in Flanders did not go as planned. The Dutch star got caught in a bad position early on and watched as his rival Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles) attacked early and rode to his third-straight win at the November 1st classic.
A year later, Van der Poel has been winning nearly every race in sight, but he was still looking to get his first chance to hoist the cobble trophy.
Van Aert has struggled to defeat his rival this year and was hoping the race he has owned for the last three years would be the perfect opportunity for him to kickstart the middle portion of his season.
The 2017 course at Koppenbergcross was similar to last year’s, albeit with a few changes. The hilltop finish was back, but it was not as far up the Koppenberg hill as last year. Most of the climbing was on the famed cobbles that were last traversed by professional bike racers during the Tour of Flanders earlier this year. Putting most of the climbing in one stretch of road meant once riders summited the ascent, there was plenty of descent to come.
Will Van der Poel Escape Early Again?
After Van der Poel’s early struggles last year, perhaps he was concerned when he missed his pedal at the start and found himself momentarily swallowed by his rivals. If he was concerned, he did not show it. Van der Poel quickly recovered and by the top of the prologue climb, he took the lead from Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions).
With a massive descent up next, Van der Poel did what any prodigy who finished second at a mountain bike World Cup this summer would do, he attacked. In a matter of a minute, Van der Poel had a gap on the rest of the field. Van der Poel’s lead after climbing the Koppenberg at the end of the first lap was six seconds.
It looked like another race where he would ride away from the field.
Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions), possibly racing his last race in the European Champion’s jersey, was determined to prove he was ready to defend it on Sunday. Aerts led the bridge back to Van der Poel on the descent and took over the lead position.
Van der Poel put in an effort to grab the mid-race time sprint, but Aerts quickly responded to the Dutch master’s move. Aerts was determined to not let Van der Poel and his technical skills have free rein on the grass descent through the fields outside Oudenaarde. Aerts kept the lead position well into the fourth lap.
With all the action at the front, a lead selection formed quickly. In it were Van der Poel, Van Aert, Van der Haar and (Van) Aerts.
Let’s Get It Started
Van der Haar has proved time and again he has no fear and full confidence in his cyclocross abilities. At the end of the fourth lap, he attacked. As we saw at Ronse, when Van der Haar attacks, he ATTACKS.
At the top of the hill, his gap was seven seconds. During the next lap, his lead grew to 11 seconds. At the Tour de Flanders this year, Phillipe Gilbert launched an attack 50km out and soloed to victory. Would Van der Haar be able to pull off a similar coup at Koppenbergcross?
Not if Van der Poel had anything to say on the matter. He chased down Van der Haar and in the process dropped Van Aert. There would be no fourth-straight title.
After flirting with getting dropped during Van der Poel’s bridge, Aerts caught back on and pulled to the front. Two Lions, one Van der Poel and the former two were not afraid of the Dutch star.
The order of affairs in the antepenultimate and penultimate laps was jockeying for position between the top three. Van der Poel led. Then Aerts. Then Van der Haar. The bell rang for one to go and the three riders were together.
Van der Haar lit his powder keg earlier in the race. Aerts continually put in work at the front. But Van der Poel? He had not yet put in his trademark big attack. However, usually he goes before the last lap. Maybe he did not quite have the legs and it would be an epic battle up the last cobble climb?
Almost exactly halfway into the last lap, Van der Poel pulled to the front and then bam, he was gone. More accurately, BAM! he was gone. A handful of pedal strokes and the lead trio was ripped apart. Suddenly and swiftly Aerts and Van der Haar were battling for second.
Van der Poel sprinted up the Steengat one more time and collapsed almost instantly at the finish line. Ten trips up the Koppenberg and a piece of the cobble was his.
Aerts escaped his teammate to take second on a day he certainly would have won the Most Aggressive Rider award. Van der Haar took third for another podium finish. Van Aert took fourth and Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) emerged from a massive group to take fifth.
Several riders ran higher pressures for the prologue climb up the Koppenberg and then pitted for bikes with lower pressures. Lars van der Haar ran 22.5 psi at first and then switched to 19.5 psi
For the nerds, Lars VDH started with tyres at 1.55 bar for the start climb, switched in pit 1 for bike with 1.35 for the race.
— Simon Burney (@SimonBurney) November 1, 2017
Klaas Vantournout took 9th in his last Koppenbergcross
Thanks @Koppenbergcross for all the great years and for supporting me! I’m gonna miss this! Finally a good feeling again
— Klaas Vantornout (@KlaasVantornout) November 1, 2017
Ian Field of Great Britain finished 15th
American Andrew Juiliano took 25th
Elite Men's Results - 2017 Koppenbergcross
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Time|
|1||2||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:07:49|
|3||9||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||1:08:13|
|19||44||VAN DER MEER||Gosse||NED||1:12:31|