Fast and furious rides in Heusden-Zolder
On the dry and fast course riders still faced enough obstacles and a strong wind to make the difference at the car racing circuit of Zolder. The winners of the day were UCI World Champion Mathieu Van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon) and Belgian Champion Sanne Cant.
Men Elite: Van der Poel confirms
Young Mathieu Van der Poel showed his rivals that he isn’t ready to give away his rainbow jersey, winning an exciting race in the Men Elite category. The 20-year-old captured his second UCI World Cup victory, one week after winning the Namur round. Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace Continental Team) had his worst result of the season, finishing eighth. The 21-year-old Belgian rider lost ground in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup standings but still holds a bonus of 16 points over Lars van der Haar, who moves from third to second place.
Van der Poel always took the initiative in the Men Elite race on a sunny Saturday afternoon. He closed the gap on the early leader’s group of three riders, including in-form Belgian Champion Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team). Lars van der Haar and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon games Cycling Team) were the only riders who were able to keep up with the furious pace set by the young UCI World Champion. After half of the nin- lap race it was clear that the three riders up front were battling for the victory. A dozen riders were more than a minute down on the trio up front, battling for fourth place. Van der Poel attacked a first time at the end of the seventh lap. When Pauwels and Van der Haar remained only at a short distance, Van der Poel shifted back. Just before hitting the final lap the situation was different when Van der Haar suffered a flat tyre. Van der Poel accelerated again on a steep run-up that was quickly followed by a steep climb. Pauwels was unable to move by Van der Haar and he was never able to close back the gap on Van der Poel. Unlucky Van der Haar sat up and focused on defending his third place. Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) won the sprint for fourth place from Vantornout. Young French rider Clément Venturini (Cofidis, Solution Crédits) was a strong sixth. Five men were sprinting for seventh place with Tim Merlier finishing just ahead of teammate Wout Van Aert, Corné van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) and Sven Nys. The latter drops from second to third overall in the World Cup standings.
Women Elite: Cant claims back leader’s jersey
Belgian Champion Sanne Cant underlined her ambitions for the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships with her second UCI World Cup win of the season in the Women’s category. Cant takes back the white World Cup leader’s jersey from eighth-placed Eva Lechner (Team Colnago SudTirol). In contrast to Van der Poel in the Men elite category, Cant allowed other riders to take the initiative. After a re-start due to technical problems Eva Lechner was leading the pack of 66 riders over the circuit in Zolder. When Ellen Van Loy (Belgium) took over the initiative in the second lap Cant was glued on her wheel. The Belgian duo excelled on a steep climb where most other riders were forced to run. During the second lap the duo dropped Lechner who went over the handlebars on a short but steep drop. Katherine Compton (USA) took over the spot in the lead group after needing more time to move up through the field. Once in front, Compton set a fast pace over the undulating course. Van Loy was unable to stay on the wheels and also Cant briefly struggled to keep up with the experienced US Champion. In the final lap, Compton could no longer threaten Cant. The pace dropped and Van Loy worked her way back to the lead group shortly before reaching a difficult twisting off-camber climb. Cant accelerated and quickly created a gap over Compton and Van Loy. On the following steep climb the gap widened as Cant clearly had more punch left in her legs. Van Loy settled for third place which is her best-ever UCI World Cup result. Meanwhile a delighted Cant kept Compton at distance to grab the victory. Shortly after Van Loy, 22-year-old Thalita de Jong (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team) grabbed a strong fourth place. The Dutch rider bounced back from a terrible start. The battle for fifth place was won by in-form Caroline Mani (France) who struggled in the opening lap but then moved up from eleventh to fourth place in the final lap.
Drama in youth categories
On Saturday morning there was a lot of drama in the youth category races. UCI World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) crashed out of the race on a bumpy descent during the fourth of six laps. Bas Nieuwenhuis (the Netherlands) stormed to victory after a dominant ride, finishing a few seconds ahead of Daan Hoeyberghs (Belgium) and Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic). Despite scoring no points Iserbyt remains leader of the UCI World Cup with a bonus of 10 points over Clément Russo (France) who finished fifth in Heusden-Zolder. In the Men Junior category Jens Dekker (the Netherlands) was keen to get the white leader’s jersey back from Jappe Jaspers (Belgium). Dekker was riding in front with Jaspers when he crashed out in the final lap. Three French riders were on Jaspers’ tail and with a late attack Thomas Bonnet (France) managed to snatch the win from the UCI World Cup leader. Jaspers now enjoys a comfortable bonus over Dekker, who remains second in the World Cup standings.
On January 17, 2016 the sixth and penultimate round of the World Cup heads to Lignières-en-Berry which will be the maiden UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup appearance for the French town.