Lars van der Haar (Giant-Shimano) won the fifth round of the UCI cyclocross World Cup in Heusden-Zolder on Thursday. He did it alone, despite a furious chase from World Cup leader Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) and a late-race mechanical.
After making an early solo move on the course’s paved stretch, van der Haar rode a blistering pace to extend his lead on the track’s wide-open power sections.
“I thought. ‘Let’s just ride; let’s just go and make a real attack,’” van der Haar said.
The World Cup leader was the only one who could keep van der Haar in striking distance. He got within 12 seconds of the Dutchman, but could not seal the deal.
With three laps to go, van der Haar’s advantage was 25 seconds over Pauwels.
Behind, Philippe Walsleben (BKCP-PowerPlus), Corné van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea), and Julien Taramarcaz (BMC) chased, fighting for third.
Then, Van der Haar had a scare on a bumpy descent. His chain fell off, and the 23-year-old tried desperately to pedal it back on, but to no avail. He was forced to come to a complete stop and put the chain back on. He fixed the problem swiftly, and kept his lead.
With two to go, van der Haar’s lead was still 21 seconds, despite the mechanical.
Though Pauwels rode a strong race, he could not bring back van der Haar on the final two laps. “I’ve been in good shape again and just needed that little bit of luck to finish it off,” said van der Haar.
“Today I thought it might happen again with my chain, but it didn’t,” he continued, referring to bad luck that has at times scuttled his races.
“It was a beautiful victory today, and I had some luck was on my side this time,” van der Haar. “I have been in good shape recently and I felt strong and was able to finish it off. I saw an opportunity when Kevin Pauwels was behind and there were four of us ahead. I hoped that the group could work together but that didn’t happen, so I thought I would just go for myself with a big attack. I don’t normally do this type of attack, but it worked.
“It was a hard race, hard at places where you did not expect it, and if you are alone it was even harder,” van der Haar said. “At one point I thought that Kevin could come back to me, but I heard that he was also suffering behind so I gave everything and could take some more time on him and that worked out, and gave me confidence to finish it off.”
Van Kessel won the sprint for third, after patiently sitting in before making his jump right before the line.
“The result was good, but it was a heavy day, always in the group I have to anticipate the other riders,” Van Kessel said. “I want to keep my GC good, but I want also a good result today. I know that Walsleben was close behind me in the GC, and he was a little bit with a gap and Lars was behind Walsleben, but I could follow him and let him drive. So I concentrated myself on the third place in the race.”
American Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) finished 18th.
After the race, Pauwels said he hadn’t had the same legs that had seen him win in Namur last weekend.
“In the beginning of the race my brake was hitting the wheel a little bit, but I didn’t dare to change the bike because here you lose a lot of time when you go to the pit. And then Lars was already gone,” Pauwels said. “I felt good, but not super, like in Namur also. Lars was better. You would have to blow up your motor if you wanted to catch him. I couldn’t close the gap with my legs….I didn’t see when Lars had his chain drop, I was already too far away.”
Pauwels kept his World Cup lead, 80 points ahead of van der Haar, who won the series last year. Barring disaster in the final race, the Belgian will hold onto the white leaders jersey. (The only way Pauwels can lose the World Cup title is if he fails to finish inside the top 50 in Hoogerheide and Van der Haar wins the race.)
“In the World Cup, I wasn’t really thinking about the classification today, I was thinking about the win, because my lead is so big already,” Pauwels said. “What’s most important is not to get sick before Hoogerheide.”