Lars van der Haar has won the first World Cup race of the season in Valkenburg. Right from the start, he accelerated on the steep slopes of the Cauberg. Kevin Pauwels and Tom Meeusen could follow him in the first part of the race but at the midpoint he benefited from a crash from Pauwels to get clear. Belgian champion Sven Nys was never in the mix in the hot conditions and ended up abandoning the race.
Due to the new UCI regulations, no less than 12 Belgians took the start under hot conditions (21 degrees Celsius) in Valkenburg but ir was Lars van der Haar who pleased the home crowd by accelerating right from the start, immediately getting a gap. Initially, young Gianni Vermeersch and Tim Meeusen led the chase while Sven Nys who missed the cross in Ardooie due to illness, was in 10th position.
During the second lap, Meeusen and Kevin Pauwels managed to join van der Haar while Philip Walsleben, Francis Mourey and Vermeersch were 5 seconds behind. Nys dangled fifteen seconds behind along with Klaas Vantornout who was fighting back from a puncture.
Van der Haar continued to set the pace in the front. He excelled on the technical descents and put in several accelerations that forced Meeusen and Pauwels to dig deep. In one of those descents, Pauwels went down which allowed van der Haar to get a gap.
Behind him, Pauwels was now on the defensive while Meeusen was riding better after having been in difficulty a bit earlier. Van der Haar continued to accelerate and very soon he was 30 seconds ahead. For Nys, it went from bad to worse: with four laps to go, the Belgian champion suffered a mechanical. He continued to ride for a while in 20th position but ended up withdrawing from the race, almost ending his World Cup campaign in the very first race.
While the riders visited the pit zone to get water in the hot conditions, van der Haar continued to do the laps at a furious speed and eh was now more than a minute ahead. Behind him, Vantornout and Walsleben had joined Meeusen and Pauwels and later Thijs van Amerongen and Corne Van Kessel also made the junction.
Van der Haar's victory was never in danger and the 23-year-old Dutchman followed himself as the winner of the race. In 2013, he already won the race and laid the foundations for his overall World Cup win.
Like last year, Pauwels finished second, beating Corne van Kessel by several bike lengths. Vantornout and Meeusen completed the top 5.
The second round of the series takes place on November 22 in the sand dunes of Koksijde.
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|Ole Kristian FAGERLI|
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