After four races of the 2017/18 Telenet UCI World Cup series, Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) was perfect. On Saturday at World Cup Zeven, he was looking to make it five of five and keep his impressive streak of dominance going.
With the thick, muddy conditions after a week of rain, it would likely take more than one of his blistering attacks to get away from Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles) and the other riders.
Last year, Van der Poel overcame an early mechanical to blast through the field, pass a leading Van Aert and take the impressive win. This year, he would face a similar task.
Early in the second lap, Van der Poel suffered a mechanical and spent the better part of 30 seconds trying to get his bike working again. He went from the lead selection to well back in the field. Although probably not his preference, the stage was set for another eye-catching ride from the Dutch wunderkind.
In 2017, however, Van Aert had no interest in becoming a footnote in the growing legend of Mathieu van der Poel. Van Aert attacked when Van der Poel mechanicaled and did not look back. He soloed off the front for 50+ minutes to take his first World Cup of the season.
Van der Poel’s consolation was a second-place finish and the latest entry into the growing lore of his exploits on the bike.
Van Aert Goes Zoom Zoom
The holeshot at Zeven led into a narrow set of muddy turns and straights that got very congested very fast. The heads of state of cyclocross showed no interest in being part of the scrum. Lars van der Haar (Telenet Fidea Lions) shot out to the holeshot and Van Aert and Van der Poel slotted in behind him.
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) suffered a less desireable fate. He got caught up in the first-turn scrum and then soon went down when a rider wiped out in front of him. It was a second straight week of misfortune in a World Cup series that has not been kind to him thus far this season.
After Van der Haar’s fast start, Van der Poel unleashed his customary attack, but Van Aert was with him and Corne van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions), Michael Boros (Pauwels Sauzen – Vastgoedservice) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games) all stayed close by. The thick mud helped slow Van der Poel down, for now. Shortly after the end of lap one, Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) also bridged to the front and the lead selection was six.
Early in the second lap, Van der Poel signaled to his pit crew as he passed pit one. Something was wrong with his bike, which became clear in short time. Heading into one of the steep inclines, Van der Poel dismounted and went to work on his drivetrain. Rider and rider zoomed by as 30+ seconds elapsed. On the other side of the snow fencing, Boros clipped a stake and went flying over the snow fence. The lead selection was all shook up.
The rest of the shaking was done by Van Aert. With his rival sidelined, he attacked. At the end of lap two, the gap back to the others was 12 seconds. Van der Poel was 35 seconds in arrears. He recovered after a mechanical last year, so the potential was there for him to go zoom zoom, boom boom yet again.
Van Aert Rolls, Van der Poel Fights Back
With his bike now working, Van der Poel started to pick his way back into contention.
Seventh to fifth to third and then finally into second in the latter half of the fourth of eight laps. Two and a half laps and Van der Poel had moved into solo second, 17 seconds ahead of the others. Vanthourenhout, Van Kessel and Aerts were resigned to battling for third.
Van Aert’s lead midway through the race was 29 seconds. Van der Poel was back on form and poised to regain more ground.
In 2016, Van Aert became a foil in Van der Poel’s memorable recovery from an early mechanical. On Saturday, he rode like a World Champion who had zero interest in allowing Van der Poel to catch him.
After Van der Poel moved to second, Van Aert extended his lead each of the next three laps. Calm and confident, he powered through the mud, ran when he needed to and kept the bike upright. Heading into the bell lap, his advantage on Van der Poel was 54 seconds.
There would be no legendary comeback. The win was Van Aert’s first World Cup win since Fiuggi earlier this calendar year. Van der Poel’s consolation was a second-place finish.
Behind the top two, there was a battle between the two Lions Aerts and Van Kessel and Vanthourenhout for third. The Telenet Fidea team has proven adept at working together this season and today the beneficiary was Aerts. Inside three to go, he broke free from the chase and moved into a solo third.
Fatigued from his massive recovery, Van der Poel showed hints of mortality in the last lap. Aerts closed the gap and nearly made the catch shortly before the last corner. Van der Poel dug deep for one last push and held off the challenge to his second-place position.
Aerts took third for the second straight World Cup.
For the Americans, Hyde took a DNF and Jeremy Durrin (Neon Velo Racing) finished 56th.
The Telenet UCI World Cup returns to the Belgian motherland in December for Namur on December 17 and Heusden-Zolder on December 26.
Men's Results: 2017 World Cup Zeven
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|2||18||VAN DER POEL||Mathieu||NED||1:08:19|
|11||19||VAN DER HAAR||Lars||NED||1:10:40|
|12||21||VAN DER POEL||David||NED||1:10:44|
|28||25||VAN DEN BRAND||Twan||NED||1:13:05|
|32||43||RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBAÑEZ||Javier||ESP||1:13:44|