"When you want win the World Cup overall, you have to come here to ride," said Mathieu van der Poel. The Boebank-Corendon rider missed last year’s CrossVegas and Jingle Cross World Cup stops as he was recovering from knee injury, but still finished second in the overall series.
After last year’s deflating World Championship silver medal ride, the Dutch champ pledged to make the trip to the States, saying, "I’m going to try my best to have an injury-free summer and to be at the [U.S.] World Cups."
Van der Poel not only had a summer free of BMX bike injuries but also one filled with mountain bike and road success as he prepared for this cyclocross season.
Yet the Dutch phenom arrived in Iowa City as a relative American cyclocross newbie. In his way was Belgian rival and World Champion Wout van Aert, who won his last four starts in the States, including the only three American World Cups that have ever been held, along with the UCI C1 day at last year’s Trek Cup.
Would fans be treated to a beautiful duel at Johnson County Fairgrounds? 18 other Belgians, 3 Dutch and 6 other Europeans along with 23 North Americans were hoping to prevent the race from becoming a two-way battle.
Even though the temperatures were in the mid 70s after an early morning rain, the heat and humidity were also concerns, especially for the Europeans not used to such conditions. "It’s always hard in this kind of heat to go full gas," said Van der Poel after the race, a completely foreign experience to his last cyclocross race in the States when snow covered the ground.
Van der Poel, Van Aert and others lined up at the start with ice pack vests, bags of ice inside their jerseys and cold stares for each other. There were no smiles or small talk while they waited through the call-ups for the 2017/2018 UCI Cyclocross World Cup season to get underway.
Pedal to the Metal
"It’s always nice to ride your own lines and do your own pace," Van der Poel said. After bolting off the line to grab the holeshot, he had the vision and command to pick his own lines and set the pace. Fortunately for him, his lines and pace early on the first lap were too much for the others. On the first time up Mt. Krumpit, the Dutch champ flew up the initial stairs, sprinted up the climb and by the top of the hill, had a few precious seconds in his pocket.
Behind, Van der Poel’s teammate Meeusen was in second and was eager to show his younger captain the ultimate loyalty by taking his foot off the gas. While Meeusen didn’t finish the race, his work paid off. Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions), Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus) and the rainbow-striped Van Aert (Crelan Charles) hopped around Meeusen and over the barriers in their chase of Van der Poel, but none could match the speed and aerials of the leader.
By the end of lap one, Van der Poel had ten seconds in his pocket and time to choose his own lines and pace, which included launching off the main flyover and putting on a show for the fans on lap two.
By lap three, the gap was 25 seconds, and Hermans and Sweeck took control of the chase. Behind them Van Aert had to pit, and then shortly after, flatted and had to pit again. His path to continuing his American win streak now had a Mt. Krumpit-sized obstacle in the way.
Impromptu Teammates, For a While
Friday night’s top two, Laurens Sweeck and Quinten Hermans, found themselves in a repeat of their Friday night battle, only with first place looking to be out of reach. To secure a win, the two Belgians could only help for Van der Poel to have a mechanical.
Their wishes were answered, albeit briefly when Van der Poel dropped his chain descending the front side of Mt. Krumpit. He lost seconds getting it back on, but after a bit of panic, his gap was still 22 seconds.
He dialed back his descending speed, stabilized the gap and settled in for a long solo ten-lap ride.
Behind, Sweeck and Hermans found themselves in an impromptu pact. "I think we were kind of teammates today," Hermans said. "We were just working, riding for the podium and sprinting for second. I had Lars [van der Haar] behind slowing down Kevin Pauwels, so that was perfect for me."
"We were still riding for second and third," Sweeck revealed about his in-race collaboration with his compatriot Hermans. "It was necessary because Pauwels was [coming], but we were good together and had a good race also."
The Gap Grows with Defense
With Sweeck and Hermans focused on defending their second podium of the festival, Van der Poel was free. Free to freestyle in the air off the flyovers, free to follow the packed line in the sand pit and free to soar over the barriers and up Mt. Krumpit.
The gap ticked back up. With half the race to go, his gap was 37 seconds. One lap later it swelled to 43 seconds. With two hot laps left, he had empty water bottle, but a jersey pocket filled with seconds as his gap approached one minute.
High Temps Get to the Americans in Iowa
Americans Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) and Kerry Werner (Kona) featured in the chase group early on, but as the laps turned over, Friday’s racing may have caught up with them.
"I think that heat really started to get to me," Hyde said. "At a couple of laps in I started losing a lot of snap and I was trying to be conservative, like I was last year and was able to race later in the race, but things started to come apart and so did I."
Four-time National Champion Jeremy Powers (Aspire) also felt the heat of the Iowa City course. "For me, it was fighting the heat at the end," Powers said. "I did a last couple lap surge. I felt like I was above my limit a little bit but I know that it’s a little bit how I’ve been racing these past couple of weeks, so I wanted to time it right, a little easier at the beginning, a little harder in the middle and then really hard at the end."
Kerry Werner had a strong top 20 finish, ending up in 19th place in his fifth World Cup. Werner was one of the few racers in the men's race on both Friday and Sunday to not always ride the run-up, and the conservative approach seemed to work as he climbed up the UCI rankings with each pass he made out on the course.
Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz), fresh off a third place under the Mt. Krumpit lights on Saturday, was exhausted at the finish but philosophical in terms his choice to race all three days. When asked if he felt the effects of racing just 19 hours earlier, Ortenblad replied, "Unfortunately, yes, I was flatter than I had hoped." He finished in 28th, but was already looking ahead, not behind at his podium or World Cup finish. "No regrets. It's in the past, nothing I can do now."
A Sprint for Silver
While Van der Poel was cruising in to celebrate taking the first World Cup of the 2017/2018 season, Sweeck and Hermans took their friendly duel deep into the last lap. Neither Belgian could shake the other after every lap's climb, descent, sand pit and barn tour, and as the race wound down, it was clear the second podium spot would go to the best sprinter.
Sweeck got the jump on the sprint and Hermans conceded, content to take home the third podium spot. "It was not much of a battle," Hermans admitted. "He had a sprint at the end and I didn’t. I was just so empty and I was happy with my third place."
Both racers were not only pleased with their World Cup podium, but with their decision to race two of the three days. "It was a good decision because we are both on the podium now," Sweeck said.
Hermans agreed. "Going full gas for the first time is always difficult," he said. "I don’t say it makes the second time easier, but it makes the beginning of the race easier."
World Cup Waterloo Awaits
The U.S. leg of the Telenet UCI World Cup continues next weekend in Waterloo, Wisconsin. The Trek Factory grounds will host a UCI C2 race on Friday, and then the World Cup Waterloo on Sunday.
See a full photo gallery below the results.
Stay tuned to Cyclocross Magazine for more coverage of the 2017 Jingle Cross World Cup in Iowa City.
Men's Results - 2017 Jingle Cross World Cup
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Team||Age||Result|
|1||20||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||BEOBANK-CORENDON||22||01:06:28|
|3||8||HERMANS||Quinten||BEL||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||22||01:07:12|
|4||2||PAUWELS||Kevin||BEL||MARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES||33||01:07:22|
|5||22||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||26||01:07:26|
|6||5||VANTHOURENHOUT||Michael||BEL||MARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES||24||01:07:56|
|7||6||AERTS||Toon||BEL||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||24||01:08:11|
|8||9||VERMEERSCH||Gianni||BEL||STEYLAERTS - BETFIRST||25||01:08:14|
|9||24||BOROŠ||Michael||CZE||PAUWELS SAUZEN - VASTGOEDSERVICE||25||01:08:14|
|10||11||ADAMS||Jens||BEL||PAUWELS SAUZEN - VASTGOEDSERVICE||25||01:08:27|
|11||12||SOETE||Daan||BEL||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||23||01:08:35|
|12||21||VAN KESSEL||Corne||NED||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||26||01:08:48|
|13||10||AERNOUTS||Jim||BEL||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||28||01:08:57|
|14||1||VAN AERT||Wout||BEL||CRELAN - CHARLES||23||01:09:00|
|15||51||MEISEN||Marcel||GER||STEYLAERTS - BETFIRST||28||01:09:11|
|16||15||VANTHOURENHOUT||Dieter||BEL||MARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES||32||01:09:23|
|17||7||MERLIER||Tim||BEL||CRELAN - CHARLES||25||01:09:42|
|20||16||PEETERS||Rob||BEL||PAUWELS SAUZEN - VASTGOEDSERVICE||32||01:09:52|
|22||25||CHAINEL||Steve||FRA||TEAM CHAZAL CANYON||34||01:10:09|
|25||23||GODRIE||Stan||NED||CRELAN - CHARLES||24||01:11:01|
|26||13||ISERBYT||Eli||BEL||MARLUX - NAPOLEON GAMES||20||01:11:08|
|29||44||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||CAN||GARNEAU-EASTON p/b TRANSITIONS LIFECARE||25||01:11:26|
|32||19||AERTS||Thijs||BEL||TELENET FIDEA LIONS||21||01:11:53|
|46||45||RICHEY||Craig||CAN||GARNEAU-EASTON p/b TRANSITIONS LIFECARE||33|