The Zolder World Cup course is one of my favorites as a viewer. Particularly the uphill off-camber section where the riders run or ride up from stage left then cross either high or low across the course to stage right before turning again and ducking behind a wall, out of sight from the spectator. To someone watching on TV or from a pirated laptop feed, this choose-your-own adventure feature has a particularly pleasing 2-d video game quality – a sort of cyclocross Mario Brothers or bike race Donkey Kong.
The U23 Men’s race was won by Laurens Sweeck over Wout Van Aert with Mathieu van der Poel rounding out the podium.
The Elite Women’s race featured an engaging three-way battle between eventual winner Marianne Vos, Katerina Nash, and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. The enthralling last lap saw Vos gain a small gap from Nash before the finishing straight, yet she sprinted all the way to the line to ensure her victory. Nash held off Ferrand-Prevot for second.
The Elite Men’s race promised to be an interesting affair with several of the year’s Elite protagonists either sidelined (Sven Nys and Klaas Vantournout) or in the U23 race (Sweeck, Van Aert, and van der Poel). Lars van der Haar, however, had different plans. When asked if the absence of Sven and Klaas detracted from the race, he responded:
The race goes on, if Iím not there, they still race as well.
He and Tom Meeusen took to the front in the first lap stretching the race and forming a group of eight or so including Corne Van Kessel, David van der Poel, Kevin Pauwels, Joeri Adams, Julien Taramarcaz and Philip Wasleben. However, in the next lap, on the pavement, van der Haar blew the race apart with a searing attack that no one, seemingly, could follow. Wasleben instigated a chase, imploring his teammate David to take over, yet receiving no assistance until Tom Meeusen abided with a pull.
As van der Haar stretched his lead to 15 seconds, Kevin Pauwels, the current World Cup leader, saw the inherent danger and attempted to begin his bridge to van der Haar. Dropping David van der Poel from his wheel, Pauwels began to close the gap to van der Haar and it appeared we might witness a repeat of Namur’s Pauwels-van der Haar duel. At 8 seconds and in the 5th lap, Pauwels slipped a pedal on the choose-your-own-adventure feature described above and this seemingly mundane mistake proved costly. From there, van der Haar’s tenuous lead began to take shape, adding layers of seconds each lap. 11. 15. 18.
Then, disaster! Or not. van der Haar, with 3 laps to go and holding a 20 second cushion over a solo-chasing Pauwels began to gingerly bunny hop his bike as one might do to check a flat tire, but then dismounted to fiddle with his chain. Was his bike kaput? Would he have to run to the pits? No, he amended whatever minor chain issue had occurred, remounted, caught a quick glance behind absent of his competitor Pauwels and proceeded along the course, perhaps taking back a few of the precious seconds lost with a seemingly unending sprint through the finishing area.
When I had 30 seconds I thought now I could do my own pace but then I had problems with the chains, that was a bit of a bummer.
Van der Haar ultimately finished at 29 seconds ahead of Pauwels and we witnessed an exciting race for 3rd which seemed destined for Taramarcaz but Van Kessel timed his sprint to perfection, coming around at the line to claim the last podium spot.
The result was good. It was a very heavy day… I concentrated on 3rd place today…I’m happy.
Pauwels now leads the World Cup with 370 points to van der Haar’s 290 and Van Kessel’s 283. Pauwels will simply need a single point at the last round in Hoogerheide in January to secure World Cup victory.
Enjoy the photos below (race report by Nicholas Lemke).