I was looking forward to the first World Cup race in Valkenburg because every new course means variety and interesting photos. Also, any race outside Belgium can only mean good for the sport. Before I upset my Belgian friends, what I mean is that the more diverse the races get, the stronger the sport gets and a new venue outside Belgium is definitely a good idea, even though Belgium was only about 30 kilometres away.
I haven’t shot a juniors’ race for a long time, so I thought it was time to do just that. The race took its normal course but the leader’s name didn’t ring a bell – until I saw it on the screen. Dubau. I remembered a mountain biker from the 90s, Ludovic Dubau, he used to ride in the Sunn team, he used to be a team mate of Miguel Martinez.
A quick quick question on twitter revealed that he and his brother, Joshua are indeed Ludovic Dubau’s sons (thanks @gbalenberg). Moreover, the ever helpful @kapelmuur29 revealed that “He’s also the cousin of road cyclist and cyclocrosser Pauline Ferrand Prevot.” That’s one hell of a cycling family.
Next up was the U23 race, they stormed past us after the start and while most people started to shuffle to the more interesting bits of the course, a rider in ‘oranje’ rode slowly towards the start line. It was the Dutch wunderkind, Mathieu van der Poel, fiddling with his left shoe. I wasn’t sure what the nature of the problem was, but the fact was that he crossed the line last.
I was equally surprised to see in a few laps that he was chasing the guys at the front. It was incredible how he managed to catch up with the duo of Michael Vanthourenhout and Wout van Aert. Vanthourenhout pulled away and won his first World Cup race and van Aert managed to hold van der Poel back until the finish. On a totally unrelated note, after having looked at the photos later, at the press centre, I realised that van Aert starting to look more and more like Josh Harnett.
Quick regroup at the press centre and the women lined up at 1:30pm. It was great to know that the race was going to be broadcasted live on the UCI’s youtube channel. The race itself didn’t bring too much excitement, Marianne Vos pulled away from the very beginning of the race and from then on, the rest of the field was fighting for the second place. Though Katie Compton only flew in on Wednesday, she rode confidently to a second place and Nikki Harris seems to be still in great form, her third place is looking promising.
While we waited for the elite men’s race to kick off, it quietly started to rain, leaving us wondering how that would affect that race. Five minutes later it seemed that the usual story would unfold: early attacks and then Sven Nys pulls away and wins the race.
Not quite. His punctures ruled him out of contention and it was refreshing to see that the usually early attackers, Lars van der Haar and Philip Walsleben weren’t fading away come 30 minutes. So much so that van der Haar completed the second half of the race on his own, leaving it to Walsleben and Kevin Pauwels to fight for the silver. Poor Pauwels has suffered his umpteenth drivetrain cock-up, it made me wonder maybe they were delivered a bad batch of Di2 components.
Van der Haar’s win was impressive and he, understandably, seemed to be over the moon upon crossing the finish line. It took him some time to get used to the speed of the elite men but it seems he has finally managed to bridge the gap. Conversely, Wietse Bosmans, the runner-up in Louisville finished 24th, more than two minutes behind van der Haar. I hope he will be able to get used to the longer race distances and become a contender in a year or two.
I normally don’t include podium photos but I think this podium deserved to be shown, I hope that this wasn’t a one-off occasion, when the ‘natural order’ was upset. We are looking forward to a great season.
And while the 2013/2014 season is gaining momentum, you can still buy my photo book about the 2012/2013 cyclocross season.