Entering Sunday’s Vlaamse Druivencross, Mathieu van der Poel was not only looking for the latest win in his season of complete dominance, he was also looking for a place in cyclocross history.
Druivencross is known as the “Mother of All ’Crosses,” and rightfully so; it was first run in 1960 and has been won by several of the sport’s top names. Van der Poel won the race in 2015 and 2016, and in 2017 he was looking to become the seventh three-time winner.
Long-term legacy aside, Van der Poel also had the opportunity to win a €12,500 bonus given to any rider who wins the Druivencross three times in five years. Roland Liboton holds the race record with 15 wins, so he certainly would have won the cash prize a few times, but it was not awarded during his run of dominance.
Sven Nys is the only other rider to win the cash bonus after he won four straight years from 2010 to 2013.
With Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles) taking another weekend of racing off, Van der Poel came into Sunday’s race as the prohibitive favorite. As he does more often than not, the Dutch wunderkind did not disappoint.
Van der Poel took the lead early in the first lap, attacked and did not look back for the better part of 56 minutes of racing. On a technical course rendered significantly more challenging by snow and mud, Van der Poel skidded, skated and powered to his latest dominant solo victory.
With it came a place in history and an impressive payday that may be spent, in part, cleaning mud at the laundromat.
Fast Start for Hyde, Faster Start for Van der Poel
Earlier in the Women’s race, Stephen Hyde’s (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) one-time roommate and teammate Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) got off to a fast start and led for the first several minutes. Perhaps taking notes, Hyde also got off to a fast start. He slotted into third behind Van der Poel and Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions) after the first climb and headed out onto the course.
Hermans was sitting first wheel when he crashed about a minute into the race. Van der Poel and Hyde pulled around him, and then the Dutch phenom attacked. Hyde and the rest of the field were unable to follow. Van der Poel quickly had a seven-second gap and with no Van Aert, Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions) or Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) to chase him down, Van der Poel was gone.
On Saturday, Van der Poel took a slightly more conservative approach once off the front. For the first few laps on Sunday, Van der Poel was anything but. He was pushing through the slick corners and descents and frequently letting his rear wheel slip and slide where it may.
During the second lap, on a descent several top riders had to dismount on during the afternoon, Van der Poel went particularly fast, allowing his superior technical skills to keep him moving forward while sliding from side to side. As is often the case, Druivencross was a Van der Poel clinic.
Van der Poel was not challenged once he took the lead. The win was his 17th of the season and third-straight at Druivencross. Three straight also meant a €12,500 payout for his consistent success.
Battle for the Best of the Rest
The battle for the Best of the Rest quickly turned into a battle of attrition thanks to the conditions and challenging course. Two laps in, the chase group was eight. Hermans dropped off after he slid out under the course tape. Klaas Vantournout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) got slowed up due to a bike issue and dropped off the pace.
Heading into the bell lap, the group was five — Eli Iserbyt (Marlux-Napoleon Games), Tom Meeusen (Beobank-Corendon), Corne van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions), Jens Adams (Pauwels Sauzen Vastgoedservice) and Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games).
Meeusen was the first to jump to the front, leading up the long climb to start the lap. Iserbyt followed, and then midway through the last lap, Van Kessel passed him on a small incline. With a continued effort after the pass, Van Kessel continued to the front and passed Meeusen.
The final descent was located maybe 500 meters before the finish. After dropping down, riders had to ride on pavement that was icy and slick thanks to the overnight snow and sleet. Getting down the rutted drop first was a good place to be heading into the last stretch of the race.
Van Kessel was the first down, while Meeusen struggled a bit behind him. The ruts grew throughout the afternoon and by the end of the Men’s race, they loomed as a challenge. The first, down, Van Kessel looked to be in a good spot.
Meeusen, however, still had some fight. Van der Poel’s teammate pulled through and entered the final turn in first position. He dropped an outrigger and carefully steered around the slick turn. Van Kessel took a more aggressive approach and got to the drops first for the finishing sprint. The Telenet Fidea Lion roared past Meeusen to take second.
After his fast start, Stephen Hyde took 16th.
Men's Results: 2017 Vlaamse Druivencross
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|1||1||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||0:58:49|
|19||27||VAN COMPERNOLLE||Kenneth||BEL||-1 LAP|
|20||32||DE WIT||Edwin||BEL||-2 LAPS|