With a blow of the whistle, the Elite Men were off for the 2015 World Cup Zolder. Tim Merlier took the holeshot and led the field while there was a single racer pile-up on the inside of the second turn.
Like in the Elite Women’s race, the group was very compact on the first pass of the course given the less technical nature of the track compared to what the riders saw last week in Namur.
Of note was the fact that Lars Boom was in the race. The 2007 U23 World Champion and the Men’s Elite World Champion from the following year was looking to gain some fitness ahead of the coming road season, his primary focus. It was clear he was new to this year’s cyclocross scene today with a start at the back of the field and some trouble riding slightly technical sections.
After one lap, Belgian National Champion Klass Vantornout was in a lead group of three as the large chase group was apparently happy to let them roll the front with a gap of 20 seconds. Venturini, who had a solid ride last weekend at Namur, was in that lead group, but the season’s biggest players rode in that second group of about 12, taking stock and trading positions with each turn and course feature.
The first rider to really take chase was none other than the World Champion, Mathieu van der Poel. He bridged at the end of lap 2 with Lars van der Haar and Tom Meeusen in tow.
Van der Haar’s attacking style was then on show as he tried to shake the pretenders and draw out the contenders. It worked as van der Poel took off in pursuit, connected, then started trading punches with van der Haar as the rest watched and waited. Missing from the front of affairs early on was World Cup leader Wout van Aert, who appeared to be struggling throughout the day.
As van der Haar and the World Champion seemed to settle in to a race of their own, it was Kevin Pauwels who was stalking them, just as he did to the leaders last week, at just a few seconds back, while Tom Muuseen led the rest.
The chase behind the leading trio seemed half-hearted. Nobody wanted to be the one person to make the required effort. And the likes of the Belgian National Champion, Sven Nys, Venturini and van Aert, who seemed to be making a recovery of sorts, all kept tabs on each other. At one point, Nys slid into the crowd control barriers on a turn at the bottom of a small, sandy drop, but was quickly back in the group.
With lap times just over 7:30 on the slightly longer course compared to past years, some of the wind seemed to come out of Kevin Pauwels’ sails as he started falling off the pace set first by van der Haar and then van der Poel, who continued to attack each other at nearly every turn, rise and rutted drop.
But the experienced Pauwels rode steady made it back and watched them from behind for some time before slotting into second as the race went to 3 to go. Just then, the World Champion made his first long attack and it was Pauwels that responded with van der Haar then countering that put Pauwels back into difficulty.
Behind, the group of ten to twelve seemed more focused on finishing fourth than getting to the front and a chance at the podium.
Van der Poel went for it for the first time on the run up, which he made look like a fast moving escalator, then kept on the gas on the following ride up trying then to put a winning gap on van der Haar and once and for all shake Pauwels. Pauwels kept cool and let van der Haar take chase.
And it worked for Pauwels.
The trio came back together and as they did van der Poel seemed to give the two riders chasing a brake check and one more dig, but all for not. Meanwhile, a minute back the dozen chasers were now for sure in their own race for the best result not on the podium.
Then van der Poel went again.
Sensing something was up with van der Haar, the World Champion again tore up the run up and the ride up right after, leaving van der Haar flat-footed and Pauwels chasing. It would come down to the last lap and van der Poel went into it as if he was racing a time trial.
The final lap was the fastest of the race. Matheiu van der Poel had taken advantage of what was van der Haar’s untimely puncture and Kevin Pauwels had to watch as the World Champion became the first rider of the year to win two World Cup races.
Jeremy Powers of the Untied States finished a surprising 16th after getting caught in traffic early on. His compatriot Stephen Hyde who had been in the top 15 early on finished in 23rd while Travis Livermon was 37th and Robert Marion was 54th. Other North American finishers were Aaron Schooler in 39th, Michael van den Ham in 40th, Jeremy Martin in 45th and Mark McConnell in 55th all from Canada.
Ian Field of Great Britain was 31st and his countryman James Spragg was 60th.
2015 World Cup Zolder, Elite Men's Full Results
|1||Mathieu VAN DER POEL||NED||20||1:09:03|
|3||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED||24||1:09:49|
|8||Wout VAN AERT||BEL||21||1:10:23|
|9||Corne VAN KESSEL||NED||24||1:10:23|
|26||Ismael ESTEBAN AGUANDO||ESP||32||1:12:52|
|32||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||29||1:14:08|
|36||Javier RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBANEZ||ESP||36||1:14:59|
|40||Michael VAN DEN HAM||CAN||23||1:15:41|
|41||Vincent DIAS DOS SANTOS||LUX||25||1:15:50|
|61||DANIEL ANIA GONZALEZ||ESP||28|