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His season may have gotten off to a rocky start due to a lingering knee injury, but Mathieu van der Poel is flying now. The reigning world cyclocross champion won his second straight World Cup event Saturday in Heusden-Zolder, on the same course that will host the 2016 world championships next month.
There was action right from the start on a comparatively warm, mostly sunny day in Belgium. As Tim Merlier of Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace led the field around the first corner of the circuit, BKCP-Corendon’s David van der Poel hit the deck and brought a few others down with him. Merlier, Klaas Vantournout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games), and Clément Venturni (Cofidis) went full gas through the many twists and turns of a winding, often technical circuit, and the trio jumped out to an early lead over the course of the first lap, crossing the line with 10 seconds over the rest of the field.
Van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon), Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), and Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) were dogged in pursuit at the front of the chase group. Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) and Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink), on the other hand, quickly found themselves well behind, losing early ground that neither rider was able to make up over the rest of the race.
As Meeusen, van der Haar, and van der Poel closed down the gap to the trio at the front, Venturni led a group of six over the line at the end of the second lap. After an unsuccesful attempt by Lars van der Haar to create some daylight, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) made it seven in the lead, but the group fell to pieces soon after as van der Poel and van der Haar traded attacks. The pair left their rivals behind on the third lap, but neither rider was able to distance the other.
While van der Poel and van der Haar took turns trying to leave each other behind, Pauwels gradually made his way back up to them, and with around three laps to go it was clear that the win would come out of the strong lead trio. But it took some time for things to shake out; favoring the circuit’s steep final climb in particular, van der Poel put in one attack after another on the technical course without opening up a definitive gap. Van der Haar made a few attempts of his own to get clear but was unsuccessful as well.
After several lead changes without any definitive moves, Van der Poel finally put in the decisive attack with under two laps to go, charging up the final climb on foot and then powering clear on the descent and ensuing straightaway. Pauwels gave chase, but the 31-year-old could not catch his younger rival. Van der Haar, meanwhile, punctured and was forced to pit on the final lap, ending any hopes he had of taking the win or even runner-up honors.
Van der Poel approached the line with enough of an advantage over Pauwels to zip up his jersey and savor his second straight World Cup series win, six days after he nabbed his first of the season in Namur. Van der Haar held on for third. World Cup leader Wout Van Aert could only notch an eighth-place finish, though he still maintains a lead in the overall standings, with 336 points to second-placed van der Haar’s 320.
The World Cup continues January 17th at Lignières-en-Berry in France.