After last week’s barnburner in Ronse, fans came into Sunday’s famed Superprestige Zonhoven hoping Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles) and Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions) could re-create their magic in the fields of Ronse in the sand of Zonhoven and give Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) another memorable challenge. After dropping his first race of the 2017/18 season last weekend, Van der Poel got back to his winning ways with a victory at Poldercross on Saturday.
Last Sunday’s win was, obviously, a big one for Van der Haar. After suffering from an injury for much of last season, Van der Haar has slowly worked his way back to the front of the Men’s field. After several frustrating finishes earlier this season, Van der Haar broke through in a big way with his massive late-race attack to bury Van der Poel and Van Aert on the slopes of Ronse.
The question on fans’ minds entering the De Kuil sand bowl at Zonhoven was if last weekend was an aberration from the usual script of Van der Poel dominance or a harbinger of more shootouts to come.
Van Aert Goes Hard Early
Laurens Sweeck started Sunday’s race with a bang, while Van der Poel seemed content to sit around eighth wheel early on. The decision almost cost him, or would have cost him if he were not Mathieu van der Poel.
Sweeck carried his fast start through the sand bowl, and when the field emerged from the descent and slow run up the sand wall, Sweeck, Van der Haar, Van Aert and Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions) were at the front.
The last technical feature of the lap was a sandy descent into a 180-corner. The only riding line was in a giant rut dug into the sand throughout the day.
The first three riders aced the rut before Van der Haar missed his line and had to stop and force his way through the turn. With his teammate Hermans in the lead trio, it had the appearances of a classic brake check. Whether intentional or not, Van der Haar’s hesitation sprung Van Aert, Sweeck and Hermans to a nine-second lead on the rest of the field.
Van Aert recognized his archrival’s misfortunate and went for it. He turned on the afterburners to exploit the early gap he was granted.
While Van Aert was all-in, Van der Poel wasted little time trying to bridge the gap. He quickly broke from the group and began to close the gap to the front. At the end of lap two, he had halved Van Aert’s advantage, and he closed the gap when the riders hit the sandy uphill after the 180-degree turn.
After three laps of early excitement, the race had been reset with a lead selection of Van der Poel, Van Aert, Hermans and Sweeck.
Van der Poel Wastes Little Time
Last week, Van der Poel waited until late in the race to launch his now-trademark big attack. When he came back to Van Aert and the others, Van Aert’s body language said he had put a lot into his early-race efforts. Did Van der Poel sense this as well?
Whether intentional or not, Van der Poel continued to pick up the pace at the start of lap four, and although the move was not sudden or powerful, Van Aert and the others could not hold his wheel. His gap was eight seconds after cresting the sand wall and a whopping twenty seconds at the end of lap four. After the run-up, Van Aert conceded the lead position in the chase to Hermans, signifying there was likely no powerful pursuit in his legs this Sunday.
Midway through the race, Van Aert did try to get away. He opened up an 11-second gap back to the chase, which was then headed up by David van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon), who came roaring out of nowhere to put himself in podium contention.
The other Van der Poel has had an interesting schedule thus far this season. He has been turning in top results in other European series such as the Swiss EKZ and the Czech Toi Toi Cup, but on Sunday, he appeared set for his top finish of the 2017/18 season thus far.
Meanwhile, David’s brother was gone to another win. Mathieu’s lead did not swell to over a minute like Maud Kaptheijns’ did in the Women’s race, but save for one bad corner and a near crash on a descent in the sand bowl, he rode as Mathieu van der Poel does when he gets a comfortable lead.
The win was his eighth of the season. He has now won 15 of the 17 races he has entered since 2017 Worlds.
— Beobank-Corendon (@BeobankCorendon) October 15, 2017
A Battle for Second?
Behind Mathieu van der Poel, the dream of a one-two Van der Poel finish similar to what the Sweecks pulled off at CrossVegas quickly faded. Van der Haar recovered, caught David van der Poel and began the work of reeling in Van Aert. Van Aert had already lit several matches in the race, and as we saw last week, Van der Haar knows how to hold some diesel in reserve.
With three laps to go, Van der Haar closed the gap to Van Aert. Van Aert again put in an effort and opened up a lead in the sand bowl, but Van der Haar again closed the gap. Next up, it was Van der Haar’s turn to attack. He opened up a four-second lead on the World Champion, but that gap was also short-lived.
Back and forth, back and forth, nothing changed. With one to go, Van der Haar and Van Aert were together. The question was which of the two had any arrows left in their quiver.
The answer to that question was Van Aert. After struggling through much of the middle of the race, Van Aert sprung to life one last time and put in another dig. His lead was five seconds at the exit of the sand bowl, and it would not be challenged en route to a second-place finish for the second time this weekend. Van der Haar finished third. David van der Poel and Sweeck rounded out the top five.
— Beobank-Corendon (@BeobankCorendon) October 15, 2017
American Andrew Juliano was on the start line in Zonhoven and finished 32nd.
A Big Weekend Ahead
Next weekend is a big one on the European schedule. Saturday is the Hansgrohe Superprestige Niels Albert CX in Boom and Sunday is the Telenet UCI World Cup in Koksijde. Cyclocross Magazine will have reports from both.
Men's Results - 2017 Superprestige Zonhoven
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Time|
|1||2||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:07:07|
|3||8||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||1:07:43|
|4||15||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||1:08:43|
|27||FERNANDEZ RODRIGUEZ||Sergio Ivan||ESP||DNF|
|39||VAN DEN BRAND||Twan||NED||DSQ|