On Sunday at World Cup Namur, Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) took over the lead for good when he made an impressive pass of Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) at the exit to the rutted off-camber. Aerts had a clean look at the feature, but Van der Poel was just that much better.
At Wednesday’s annual Boxing Day race at World Cup Heusden-Zolder, Van der Poel did not use a dazzling move to emphatically take the lead, but his skill did force Aerts into a mistake that gave the Dutch star all the space he needed to win.
Two laps into the fast race on a chilly afternoon, a lead group of six whittled down to Aerts, Van der Poel and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux – Bingoal). Fifteen minutes in, Van der Poel was content to let the fast starters and his companions in the lead group do the work at the front.
That changed in Lap 3 after the uphill off-camber when Van der Poel moved to the front to get a clean look at the technical series of ups and downs. His unrivaled technical prowess shifted the pressure to Aerts and Vanthourenhout to follow his wheel.
The pressure proved too much for Aerts when the World Cup leader hesitated and then dismounted at the top of one of the steep ascents. His mistake gave Van der Poel an advantage that he stretched to eight seconds at the end of the lap.
Give Van der Poel eight seconds on a cyclocross course, and more often than not he will ride it to a win. He did so on Wednesday at the Circuit Zolder to stay perfect in the five World Cups he has started this season.
Circuit Zolder Speed
After a wet, muddy affair at Namur, temperatures in Heusden-Zolder dropped into the 30s, making the course frozen in spots and fast.
Wout van Aert (Cibel – Cebon Offroad Team) bounced back from his missed pedal at Namur to get off to a fast start on the long start straight on the Circuit Zolder tarmac. Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions) pulled around Van Aert at the end of the straight to take the lead out onto the course, and the two Belgians continued their charge out into the open, flowy first half of the circuit.
Hermans and Van Aert stayed off the front until Van Aert started to drop back midway through Lap 1 with what appeared to be a flat tire. Fortunately, Pit 2 was close so he did not lose too much time, but the defending World Champion was still chasing 14 seconds after one lap behind Aerts, Vanthourenhout, Van der Poel, Hermans, Joris Nieuwenhuis (Team Sunweb) and Tim Merlier (Crelan – Charles).
The lead six stayed together for much of the second lap, while Van Aert and five others gave chase about 10 seconds back. The technical section at the end of the lap helped break the lead group up, and two laps into the nine-lap race, Aerts, Vanthourenhout and Van der Poel were off the front with a five-second advantage. Van Aert sat nine seconds back, which seemed like a lot thanks to the afternoon’s fast racing speeds.
Two and a half laps into the race, Van der Poel had been content to let others push the pace at the front. After Hermans led early, he let Aerts and Vanthourenhout drive a pace that kept the chasers from making contact.
That changed in the third lap. And when Van der Poel goes to the front, you have to be near perfect to keep his wheel.
After the uphill off-camber, Van der Poel got out of the saddle and accelerated to the front to take the lead into the first drop. He stayed on the attack, keeping up a blistering pace through the ups and downs.
On one of the inclines, Van der Poel’s pressure was too much for Aerts. The Belgian put his foot down near the crest of an incline and then had to dismount, in the process holding up Vanthourenhout.
It was not as jaw-dropping as Van der Poel’s Namur move, but his forcing a mistake by Aerts was equally effective. Three laps in, Van der Poel had an eight-second advantage on Aerts and Vanthourenhout.
Early in Lap 4, Van der Poel’s advantage grew while Vanthourenhout dropped Aerts to take solo second. Heading into the second half of the race, Van der Poel led Vanthourenhout by 13 seconds, who in turn led Aerts, Van Aert, Nieuwenhuis and Hermans by just as much.
Double Dutch Podium
Vanthourenhout entered Lap 5 with dreams of his third World Cup podium of the season. However, the number five was not kind to him Wednesday afternoon.
Still in second, Vanthourenhout slipped out on the same corner Brand did in the Elite Women’s race. He recovered and still held solo second, but when he got to the entrance to the Zolder Woods, his chain and derailleur got jammed up.
He stopped at the same place Vos did when she had her Lap 4 mechanical, but for Vanthourenhout, there would be no big last-lap win.
As Vanthourenhout ran to the pit, Van Aert, Aerts, Nieuwenhuis and Hermans passed him to become the chase. Vanthourenhout’s mechanical in turn gave Van der Poel a 31-second lead.
The last third of the race was the latest Van der Poel coronation. With the victory, he stayed perfect in the five World Cup races he has started this season. The win was also number 18 for the 2018/19 campaign.
In the sixth lap, Nieuwenhuis put in an effort through the technical section and Van Aert followed, dropping the others in the chase. The two carried a small advantage into the last third of the race. In Lap 7, Van Aert then broke away to take over solo second. He kept the spot to take second for the 14th time this season.
Nieuwenhuis held onto third to finish on his first Elite World Cup podium.
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) finished 17th, Michael van den Ham (Garneau – Easton p/b Transitions LifeCare) 41st, Curtis White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) 43rd, Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano) 47th, Cody Kaiser (LangeTwins / Specialized) 49th, Garry Millburn 53rd, Cameron Jette 56th, Tyler Cloutier (Garneau – Easton p/b Transitions LifeCare) 63rd and Max Judelson (Voler/Clif/HRS/Rock Lobster) was a DNF.
Zdeněk Štybar (Quick-Step Floors) made his return to cyclocross at Zolder and was a fan favorite during his 21st-place ride.
Full results are below.
Elite Men Results: 2018 World Cup Heusden-Zolder
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|1||19||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:02:49|
|7||22||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||1:03:52|
|8||20||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||1:03:56|
|40||50||RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBAÑEZ||Javier||ESP||1:07:48|
|41||68||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||CAN||1:07:48|
|44||26||VAN DER MEER||Gosse||NED||1:08:56|
|55||64||DIAS DOS SANTOS||Vincent||LUX||LAP|
|DNF||52||JUNQUERA SAN MILLAN||Luis||ESP|