Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) soloed to victory in the Soudel Classics round at Leuven on Sunday.
Van der Poel shot away from a lead group with three laps remaining and was never seen again, leaving Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) and Laurents Sweeck (Corenden-Kwadro) to battle for the remaining spots on the podium.
Sweeck, Meeusen, Van der Poel and teammate Philipp Walsleben, Pauwels, and Joeri Adams (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) were all in the hunt with six to go.
Sweeck showed himself early in the lap and soon left the others behind. Walsleben, Pauwels and Meeusen led the pursuit, eight seconds back, with Van der Poel and Adams at 18 seconds.
Van der Poel made it back up to the chase only to see Meeusen leave it and link up with Sweeck as they hit the pits going into four to go. Van der Poel led the others, eight seconds back at the line, while Adams had dropped more than a half-minute behind.
Sweeck and Meeusen stayed just a few bike lengths ahead of the pursuit until the first pass by the pits, when Van der Poel, Walsleben and Pauwels joined them. But Sweeck kept the pressure on in the heavy, muddy sections, and pried the gap open once again.
Meeusen followed, then Walsleben, while Pauwels led Van der Poel a few seconds behind. The group reformed at the second pass by the pit, and with three to go Van der Poel surged off the front on the finish-line stretch pavement, opening a six-second gap by the barriers and showboating over a pair of small jumps.
Walsleben slid out and lost contact with the chase, led by Pauwels and Sweeck.
Sweeck had the better of the others in the thick mud and set out alone after Van der Poel. And with two to go Van der Poel led Sweeck and Meeusen by 13 seconds with Pauwels at 22 and Walsleben more than a half-minute in arrears.
Meeusen made a move during the lap, briefly putting some daylight between himself and Sweeck as Pauwels caught the Corenden rider.
But Van der Poel was well away — he took a lead of 39 seconds into the bell lap, and the chasing threesome was racing for second.
Sweeck stayed on the front of the reformed trio, with Pauwels second and Meeusen bringing up the rear. A late acceleration by Sweeck and a rare miscue by Meeusen saw the latter lose contact in a transition from mud to pavement. And then Pauwels had trouble clicking into a pedal and Sweeck was away, in sole possession of second place.
Pauwels led Meeusen back up to him in the mud, and then took the front with Meeusen second.
As Van der Poel pitted for a clean bike, zipped up and celebrated the win, Sweeck attacked once again just ahead of the finishing stretch. Hitting the pavement first, he tried to lead out the sprint, but it was too early, and Meeusen surged past for the runner-up spot with Pauwels third.
Van der Poel told the website sport.be that he didn’t have “a super day,” but made the most of it, going all in with that final attack.
Now, he’ll rest up and try to win his first elite national championship.
Following Van der Poel’s attack “was not an option,” said Meeusen, who was content with second. Pauwels likewise said he couldn’t close the gap, though he gave it a go.
In women’s racing, Sabrina Stultiens (Rabo-Liv) took the victory ahead of Telenet-Fidea teammates Ellen Van Loy and Jolien Verschueren.
Stultiens said her form was good and she was looking forward to battling Marianne Vos for the Dutch championship.
• Sven Nys’ run of poor finishes continued. The Crelan-AA Drink rider was a minute down with five laps remaining and never got closer to the head of affairs. The Belgian champion, who finished 12th on the day, told sport.be: “It was very bad. I felt it right away. I can’t do much about it, but I’ll do my best.”