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After both van der Poel and Van Aert had been setback by a crash, the latter made it back to the front and ultimately dropped van der Haar to conquer his first rainbow jersey in Heusden-Zolder; Pauwels completed the podium

Photo: UCI Channel










31.01.2016 @ 16:33 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Wout Van Aert made it a perfect season when he won the hugely anticipated battle with Mathieu van der Poel at the World Championships on his home soil in Heusden-Zolder. After a dramatic race in which both pre-race favourites lost ground in a crash, he made his way back to lone leader Lars van der Haar whom he distanced on the final climb to claim a solo win. Van der Haar was five seconds behind in second while Kevin Pauwels beat Sven Nys and a disappointed van der Poel in the battle for third.


Wout Van Aert has won the Belgian Championships and the overall World Cup and Bpost Bank Trofeee titles and only disaster can prevent him from winning the Superprestige as well. To make it the perfect season, he just needed one win, the most prestigious of them all at the World Championships.


In the last few weeks, however, it has been all about his archrival Mathieu van der Poel who has been in a class of his own, winning the two final rounds of the World Cup in the last two weekends. Hence, the defending champion went into today’s battle for the rainbow jersey as the overwhelming favourite after Van Aert had taken a beating last weekend. However, the Belgian was always confident that he would be able to take on the pre-race favourite and he lived up to his promise in the most spectacular fashion as he won a very dramatic and exciting race on his home soil in Heusden-Zolder.


Both Van Aert and van der Poel had been keen to make the race hard right from the beginning but as they were unable to drop each other and a very strong Lars van der Haar, more and more riders rejoined the front group which swelled to 8 riders in the fifth lap. Van Aert was doing most of the work while van der Poel made a few small attacks but never managed to put his Belgian rival into difficulty.


Both riders took a few easy laps as they prepared themselves for the finale and it was the Dutchmen who took the initiative in the fifth lap when van der Haar moved to the front with van der Poel on his wheel. Van Aert moved into third when disaster struck for both pre-race favourites.


Van der Poel slid out as he tried to run up a muddy climb and his foot got stuck in Van Aert’s front wheel. The two rivals allied as they tried to get back on their bikes but it took several second to free the foot. As a consequence, they suddenly found themselves more than 20 seconds behind van der Haar who had used the incident to escape.


Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys formed a Belgian chase duo while van der Poel made several mistakes as he desperately tried to chase back. As opposed to this, Van Aert calmly paced his way back to his two compatriots whom he quickly distanced.


At the start of the penultimate lap, Van Aert was 12 seconds behind while van der Poel had 30 seconds to make up. The Belgian made the junction halfway through the lap but as van der Poel had now passed Nys and Pauwels and was approaching from behind, he didn’t get any help from his companion who was waiting for his teammate to get back. Hence, Van Aert had to do all the work.


Van Aert set a fast pace which made it evident that van der Poel would not make it back and as they started the final half of the circuit, it was a two-rider battle. Van der Haar tried to hit the front when they got to the hardest point but it was evident that Van Aert was the strongest. He made the difference on the final two climbs and van der Haar had to surrender on the final ascent which gave the Belgian time to celebrate a solo win when he turned onto the tarmac.


A disappointed van der Poel sat up in the finale and was passed by both Pauwels and Nys. The former took the bronze medal while the latter sat up to wave goodbye to his many fans after his final Worlds race.


Van Aert will get his first chance to wear his new jersey if he decides to line up in the smaller race in Maldegem on Wednesday. The next major races are Saturday’s Bpost race in Sint-Niklaas and Sunday’s Superprestige race in Middelkerke.


How it unfolded:

Unsurprisingly, the Belgian team took control right from the start as the trade teammates of Tim Merlier and Wout van Aert hit the front, followed by compatriot Laurens Sweeck. Meanwhile, Matheiu van der Poel found himself far back in around 10th position.


Merlier did his job in the first part of the race before swinging off and leaving it to his team leader to set the pace. A split appeared behind Van Aert, Sweeck, Radomir Simunek and Lars van der Haar but a very attentive van der Poel realized the danger, sprinted past several riders and made it back to the leader. Further bac, the group was splintering, with Michael Vanthourenhout, Tom Meeusen, Kevin Pauwels and the French pair of Francis Mourey and Clement Venturini being the nearest chasers.


The chasers rejoined the leader while van Aert continued to ride on the front and his pace clearly put most of his rivals under pressure. As a small gap opened up behind the Belgian, van der Poel moved into second position and quickly hit the front. Van der Haar joined the duo while the rest of the group broke to pieces.


Van der Poel quickly went full gas in an attempt to distance van Aert and he hit the finishing straight for the first time with a small 1-second advantage over his chasers. Van Aert was riding full gas, trying to get back to the front. Simunek was next at 1 2 seconds, followed by Sweeck at 15 seconds while Pauwels, Meeusen, David van der Poel and Michael Boros led a big group 20 seconds back


While Sweeck, Pauwels and Simunek joined forces, the front trio came back together and van Aert went straight to the front. Meanwhile, the first Belgian was taken as out of contention when Merlier suffered a mechanical.


Van Aert continued to ride on the front and as he was not going full gas, the three chasers approached from behind. Van der Poel was waiting for the right moment to make a move but when he made his first attempt, he nearly crashed and again allowed to van Aert to hit the front. In the chase group, Pauwels was doing all the work and as only Sweeck could match him, Simunek was left behind.


Van Aert tried to up the pace on a climb and for the first time, van der Poel showed signs of weakness as the Dutch pair allowed the Belgian to get an advantage of a few metres. As they reached the finish for the second time, it had gone out to around 3 seconds while Pauwels and Sweeck were at 11 seconds. Meeusen, van der Poel, Venturini, Simunek and Sven Nys were just metres behind.


The front trio came back together as they started the third lap. Van Aert was still riding on the front and only briefly allowed van der Poel to take over. Meanwhile, Pauwels slowly paced his way back to the front and midway through the lap, Sweeck also made the junction.


Just as it had become a quintet, Van Aert attacked and immediately left Sweeck behind. However, the rest of his rivals managed to respond. Further back, Nys was getting up to speed and had dropped the rest of his group.


Van Aert didn’t slow down and this was too much for his compatriot Pauwels who fell off the pace. As they reached the finish at the end of the third lap, they had distanced the Belgian by 5 seconds while Sweec and Nys were at 9 seconds. Meeusen, David van der Poel, Venturini and Simunek were 20 seconds behind, followed by Vanthourenhout, Marcel Meisen and Boros at more than 30 seconds.


Van der Haar tried to attack just as they crossed the line but van Aert responded immediately and again hit the front. As the pace went down, Pauwels made it back and moments later, Nys and Sweeck turned it into a front sextet as they approached the midpoint of the race.


Nys didn’t need much time to recover from his effort before he sprinted into second position behind van Aert.  He stayed there until van Aert slowed down and let Sweeck take over.


The slower pace was a chance for Nys to make an attack but van der Haar quickly shut it down and instead the veteran continued to ride on the front. Suddenly, a gap opened behind him and this forced van der Haar to react. The Dutchmen were suddenly on the defensive but the Giant-Alpecin rider made it back alongside van Aert and van der Poel.


As Nys and van der Haar were forced to run up a muddy climb, van Aert powered to the front and it briefly looked like the two Dutchmen were suffering while Nys was comfortable on his wheel. Meanwhile, Pauwels was pacing himself bac and he made the junction as they hit the finishing straight at the halfway point of the race. As they crossed the line, Sweeck was 5 seconds behind while David van der Poel and Meeusen were at 10 seconds, followed by Venturini and Simunek at 20 seconds.


There was a bit of hesitation in the group which allowed Sweeck to close the gap and he went straight to the front. His pace was relatively slow though and suddenly David van der Poel and Meeusen had closed the 10-second gap and it was an 8-rider group that had formed.


Van der Haar took over the pace-setting and seemed to set van der Poel up for an attack when drama occurred. The defending champion slid out on a muddy climb and as his foot got caught in Van Aert’s front wheel, the two pre-race favourites were on the ground for several seconds. As a consequence, they suddenly found themselves back with Venturini and Simunek while van der Haar was the lone leader of the race.


Pauwels tried to react and moved to the front with Nys and only David van der Poel could match them as they tried to make it back to van der Haar. Further back, van der Poel and Van Aert were chasing desperately and the defending champion was making several technical mistakes in the process.


At the end of the fifth lap, van der Haar had an advantage of 11 seconds over is three chasers while Sweeck, Meeusen and van Aert were at 17 seconds. Van der Poel found himself 29 seconds back, with Venturini and Simunek at 34 seconds.


Van der Poel finally got to the pit where he could change his bike but he was now far behind. Meanwhile, Nys was leading the chase but van der Haar was increasing his advantage. Van Aert had got his legs going again and after dropping Sweeck and Meeusen, he was making his way back to the chasers.


When Van Aert had made the junction, Pauwels took over the pace-setting but they were not getting any closer to van der Haar. Van der Poel was not approaching either and was more than 30 seconds behind in 8th position.


The chase lost momentum when Pauwels slid out on a climb and instead van Aert took over. Meanwhile, van der Poel passed Meeusen and Sweeck.


Van Aert was now going all out in an effort to make it back to van der Haar and only Nys coul keep up with him. On a small climb, the veteran also had to surrender before van Aert started the penultimate lap with a 12-second deficit. Nys was at 20 seconds, Pauwels at 23 seconds and the van der Poel brothers at 28 seconds, followed by Meeusen at 39 seconds and Sweeck and 48 seconds.


Van Aert brought the gap down to 9 seconds where it stayed for a while and van der Poel was stuck at around 30 seconds. Meanwhile, Pauwels caught Nys.


Van Aert made the gamble not to change his bike and as van der Haar entered the pits, the two leaders were back together as they approached the end of the lap. Van Aert tried to move straight to the front but as he failed, he allowed van der Haar to set the pace which dropped considerably.


Van der Poel had regained momentum and passed both Nys and Pauwels. As they hit the tarmac for the start of the final lap, Van Aert looked back to check the position of his archrival who was now less than 20 seconds behind, followed by Nys and then Pauwels.


It was evident that it was a Van Aert-van der Haar battle for the win as van der Poel failed to get within 10 seconds of the leaders and it was Van Aert who did all the work. Further back, Nys was still hoping for a medal and he managed to keep van der Poel within just a few seconds for most of the lap until he finally had to let him go.


Van der Poel was losing ground as Van Aert was doing his maximum to get rid of van der Haar who stayed glued to the Belgian’s wheel. He stayed there until one of the final climbs was over and then passed the Belgian on the descent.


Van Aert was stronger as they ran up the penultimate climb and managed to pass van der Haar. As they hit the final ascent, his power made the difference as the Dutchman was dropped and from there the outcome was no longer in doubt. Van Aert celebrated his win as hit the tarmac, with van der Haar rolling across the line five seconds later. Van der Poel completely sat up and was passed by Pauwels and Nys, with the former taking bronze and the latter waving goodby to the spectators.



1. Wout van Aert 1.05.52

2. Lars van der Haar +0.05

3. Kevin Pauwels +0.35

4. Sven Nys +0.39

5. Mathieu van der Poel +0.47

6. David van der Poel +1.03

7. Laurens Sweeck +1.11

8. Tom Meeusen +1.23

9. Radmoir Simunek +1.37

10. Marcel Meisen +1.43

11. Clement Venturini +2.01

12. Michael Vanthourenhout +2.15

13. Stan Godrie +2.28

14. Lars Boom +2.37

15. Francis Mouret 2.43

16. Michael Boros 2.46

17. Thijs van Amerongen +2.46

18. Corne van Kessel +2.50

19. Philipp Walsleben +3.00

20. Steve Chainel +3.08



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