After two hot weeks in the U.S. European cyclocross stars returned to the Low Countries for the start of their 2017/18 European campaign at Sunday’s Telenet Superprestige Gieten. Although the temperatures were cooler and conditions damper, Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) returned to his home country red hot. Van der Poel won three races in the U.S. and easily won both World Cups while leaving his competitors in his literal and figurative dust.
Van der Poel seemed to enjoy his trip to the Midwest, but one rider who did not was defending world champion Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles). Van Aert had a tough time in the two World Cups and did not look like the rider who has won the rainbow stripes at two straight Worlds. Sanne Cant (Beobank-Corendon) had a rough U.S. campaign in 2016 and recovered in Europe with a dominant season that ended in a World Championship, so writing off Van Aert at this point would certainly be a fool’s errand. Still, one of the key storylines heading into Sunday was how Van Aert would respond now that he was back racing in Europe.
The track at Gieten was muddy but fast. Precipitation earlier in the weekend left mud and wet sand in the beach section near the pond, but earlier races helped iron out solid riding lines throughout much of the course. There were still some muddy sections left near the start and barriers, so for those riders and fans missing Euro cyclocross conditions at the U.S. World Cups, ’cross was finally officially here.
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The plot of races Van der Poel has entered this year has been predictable: Van der Poel attacks early, Van der Poel soloes, Van der Poel wins.
On Sunday, Van der Poel again went off like a rocket and had an eight-second lead halfway through the first lap. Was the same story going to unfold again? Or could Van Aert get back on his game and reel in the flying Dutchman?
Fast Start for Van der Poel, Van Aert in the Chase
Van der Poel’s hot start gave him an eight-second lead at the sand and a five-second gap back to second at the end of the first lap. In this season’s previous races contested by the young wunderkinds, Van Aert has been unable to mirror his Dutch rival’s early attacks and has gotten buried in the field while Van der Poel rides and flies his way to victory.
On Sunday, Van Aert’s placement was better, and at the start of the second lap, he was in position to lead the hunt of Van der Poel. With Van Aert driving the pace, the chase group quickly started to splinter, and Van Aert was joined by Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) and Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games), with Tom Meeusen (Beobank-Corendon), Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) and Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions) chasing them.
One minute into the third lap, Van Aert and Pauwels caught Van der Poel and the Dutch phenom resigned himself to playing with others. Aerts and Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus) also joined the group and it slowly swelled throughout the lap as riders conjured up memories of races of yore racing in a group against Van der Poel.
Laurens Sweeck used Iowa City and Cross Vegas to show other riders that he is a young rider to be reckoned with this season. Van der Poel and Van Aert were more than happy to put Sweeck’s power to use and allowed him to drive the pace heading into the middle of the ten-lap race.
We Are Never Getting Back Together
In European races, big groups can usually last only so long. Halfway through the race during the fifth lap, Van Aert moved to the front and shattered the large group that had formed behind Sweeck. The next lap, Sweeck took up the work detail and when he was done, the race’s lead selection had finally started to take shape.
At the front were Sweeck, Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pauwels and Van der Haar. An impressive group of riders, no doubt, but all the riders and spectators knew it was only a matter of time before Van der Poel unleashed his late-race attack.
If the race were CrossVegas Van der Poel’s move would have been apt because he started his move before the end of lucky lap seven. He had a two-second gap on Van Aert at the line and continued to press the issue well into the three-to-go trip around the circuit.
Van Aert did his best to match Van der Poel’s move. He reeled his rival in earlier in the race and three laps is a long time for a rider to go solo. After the tough U.S. trip, matching Van der Poel’s famed move would be huge for the defending world champion.
Van Aert mirrored Van der Poel, to an extent. The Dutchman’s lead was seven seconds at the start of the penultimate lap. Van Aert’s consolation prize for chasing his rival was an even bigger 12-second gap back to Sweeck and Van der Haar. Chasing the Dutch champ has its perks.
Van der Poel’s combination of technique and speed was too much for Van Aert to handle. The Dutch commentator used the term “technique” for Van der Poel and “power” for Van Aert, but on Sunday, Van der Poel put the two together to get away and stay away. He smoothly navigated the ruts in the sand and powered up the inclines to stay perfect on the 2017/18 season.
— Beobank-Corendon (@BeobankCorendon) October 1, 2017
The Dutch cyclocross wunderkind has now won 10 of the 11 races he has entered since his flat-marred World Championships in Bieles.
The rest of the results played out following a familiar pattern. Van der Poel wins, Van Aert escapes everyone else and two or more riders battle for the “Best of the Rest.” On Sunday, the Best of the Rest was Sweeck, who outdueled Van der Haar to grab third. Young gun Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions) battled back to round out the top five.
Cyclocross Magazine will be covering all Telenet Superprestige, DVV Verzekeringen Trofee and World Cup races this season. Next up is Sunday’s DVV Trofee Hotondcross / GP Mario de Clercq in Ronse, Belgium that will be streamed live on trekbikes.com.
Men's Results - 2017 Telenet Superprestige Gieten
|1||2||VAN DER POEL Mathieu||NED||22||'0:57:45|
|2||1||VAN AERT Wout||BEL||23||'0:58:00|
|4||8||VAN DER HAAR Lars||NED||26||'0:58:18|
|13||15||VAN DER POEL David||NED||25||'0:59:40|
|21||27||VAN DEN BRAND Twan||NED||28||'1:01:17|
|27||30||VAN LEEUWEN Patrick||NED||32||'1 Lap|
|28||22||TAKENOUCHI Yu||JPN||29||'1 Lap|
|29||28||VAN COMPERNOLLE Kenneth||BEL||29||'1 Lap|
|30||33||REP Sjoerd||NED||35||'1 Lap|