Nineteen-year-old Dutch phenom Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) won an icy and cold sixth round of the Superprestige series in Diegem, Belgium, on Sunday, soloing across the line ahead of Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and a resurgent Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games).
Van der Poel rode at the front from start to finish, and benefitted from a late-race crash by Dutch champion Lars van der Haar (Giant-Shimano) to ride clear of the front group, winning by three seconds with a wheelie across the line.
“I focused on this race since two or three weeks. I wanted to win here. And it’s beautiful that I can finish it off like this,” van der Poel said.
Held in freezing, snowy conditions and under lights, the race began with a chaotic start. The back of the race convened into a massive bottleneck as riders exited the town of Diegem and headed onto the slippery course; shortly after, a tricky off-camber section strung out the field single-file and saw several riders slip off course.
Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) had a mechanical at the start, and was immediately out of the race, while Pauwels, the World Cup series leader, was a victim of an early pileup, and fell back to 45th position on the first lap. Still, given his fight back to the front, Pauwels saw his experience as a positive one.
“This was one of my best days this winter,” Pauwels said. “My back wheel slid out in the second corner and Sven [Nys] slammed into me, and I went to the ground. I had to walk a little to get back to my bike, and I lost a lot of time. I ended up with riders who I don’t even know.”
Once the field had emerged from the early chaos, Meeusen led van der Haar, followed by van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus).
Three riders made up the first chase group: Corne van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea), Philip Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus), and David van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus).
After one lap, Meeusen and Walsleben led with Mathieu van der Poel close behind; five seconds back, van der Haar, van Kessel and David van der Poel chased.
Pauwels crossed the finish line 40 seconds down after one lap.
On the second lap, Walsleben took the lead, with Meeusen the only rider in the lead group to bunnyhop the course’s double barriers
At the completion of two laps, four leaders were at the front: Meeusen and Walsleben held a three-second lead over Mathieu van der Poel and van der Haar.
By the third lap, however, a six-man lead group was firmly established, as van Kessel and David van der Poel had bridged across.
Forty minutes into the 60-minute race, and with three laps to go, the same six riders led, though a botched bike swap, caused by van Kessel’s mechanic, saw both van Kessel and David van der Poel lose contact.
Four men remained at the front — van der Haar, Mathieu van der Poel, Meeusen, and Walsleben — while behind Pauwels had ridden himself into seventh, at 21 seconds.
Next to suffer a mishap was van Der Haar, who crashed on a slick, rutted turn while trying to pass van der Poel; the Dutch champion looked to have dropped his chain, momentarily losing contact with the leaders.
With two laps to go, Mathieu van der Poel rode alone at the front, six seconds ahead of Meeusen and Walsleben. Van Kessel and David van der Poel were another five seconds down, while van der Haar, Jens Adams (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), and Pauwels chased at 16 seconds back.
Van der Haar quickly accelerated back to the front of the first chase group, but he crashed again, on the same rutted turn where he had crashed one lap earlier, dropping from the front of the chase group to the back
Heading into the final lap, Mathieu van der Poel’s lead was 20 seconds over a five-man chase group — Meeusen, van der Haar, Pauwels, Walsleben and David van der Poel — but the young Dutch rider faced a scare with a mechanical issue, quickly heading into the pits for a spare bike. His lead stretched to 30 seconds with a half-lap remaining.
At the finish line, van der Poel had plenty of time to pop a wheelie, with Meeusen finishing second, ahead of Pauwels.
“The whole course wasn’t ice, it was some parts were icy and other parts weren’t,” van der Poel said. “And that made it really difficult today. The last lap I was maybe a bit too careful, but I didn’t want to make any mistakes, so I just took my time to take all the corners and to be safe to the finish line.”
Van der Haar finished fourth, with David van der Poel in fifth, and Adams in sixth. Walsleben was seventh, with van Kessel in eighth.
“I wanted to move up right away wherever I could, but it wasn’t obvious on this course,” Pauwels said. “But because I was so good, I moved well. Where I would have ended up without the crash, I don’t know.”
Meeusen said a back injury, sustained at Zolder on Friday, gave him issues throughout the Diegem race.
“In Zolder in the last lap of the warm up, in the steep downhill, I almost crashed, and I had to push my feet hard on the ground and there was something in my back,” he said. “So my back was blocked in Zolder, and I had no power there. And that was very frustrating, because it was a goal for me to be good in Zolder. Today I still felt it, that my back was not in the right position, so I when I had to close the gap to Mathieu I had not enough power in the legs to close it. But in these conditions, in snow and ice, I’m pretty good technically, so on technical advantage I could save my second place.”
With two Superprestige events remaining, van der Poel took the series lead with 77 points, ahead of Pauwels (76), van der Haar (75), and Meeusen (72).
“At the beginning [Superprestige] wasn’t really a goal for me, but now with two races to go for the classification I made it a goal,” van der Poel said. “It’s just one point that I am ahead, but it can be enough to win… But it isn’t finished yet. And it’s going to be really hard to maintain this advantage.”
The race marked a return for Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) after a self-imposed weeklong hiatus due to a mysterious drop in form. Nys finished 16th, 2:20 down, and was never at the front of the race.
Prior to the race, Nys, a five-time winner in Diegem and the defending champion, wrote in his Gazet van Antwerpen column that he had not expected a good result.
“During the last week, I have barely been on the bike for a few hours,” Nys wrote. “On Friday morning, I rode for two hours, and that was the longest workout of the week. In the first half, I was never on the bike. Now I hope to be physically and mentally ready for the race on Sunday in Diegem. I don’t expect a good result but in Diegem I want to have the feeling that I have an extra gear. I don’t want to be trapped in my own body anymore…. If the feeling is bad on Sunday, it will be difficult to be at a good level again this season. If I have a good feeling, it forms the basis to gradually improve again.”
A three-minute recap video from the men’s race can be found here.