Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) put on a final lap exhibition on home turf Sunday and won the Hoogerheide World Cup.
The battle for what remained of the podium saw a trio of Baloise Trek Lions in pursuit of the World Champion and Dutch champion Joris Nieuwenhuis closest for second place, just five seconds behind Van der Poel. Pim Ronhaar outsprinted teammate Thibau Nys for third.
World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) secured fifth, and held on to the series lead. The nine riders behind Van der Poel crossed the line under one minute behind.
“It was good, but I had to do it in a slightly different way,” Van der Poel said about winning in Hoogerheide, the last effort giving him the elite men’s rainbow jersey for a fifth time.
“After I attack, I’m not that fresh as I was the rest of the season. But it’s normal, it’s a good sign. Last year [before Worlds] was a bit different, I only had one race on the weekend before.This year I had yesterday and today, a slightly different approach. I feel OK, I just need to rest and hopefully next week I will have my best legs of the season.”
European champion Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) was one of the big names that succumbed to the slippery surface in Hoogerheide as well as back-to-back races, saying “it’s difficult to recover from yesterday”, where he was runner-up to Van der Poel at X2O Trofee in Hamme. He took a tumble and finished 14th.
For Iserbyt, a strong finish was important to him to retain the World Cup lead and motivate him for next weekend’s World Championships.
“I am very happy with the GC, but would have liked to be on the podium. On the last lap, I felt my legs were really empty. And now with the World Championships, I would like to be on the podium. My season has been very good, I think, maybe the best of my career so far,” Iserbyt said at the finish, headed to two rest days before checking out the World’s course in Tabor.
With blue skies overhead, what remained on the moist track made corners tricky to navigate. But before scampering away from the tarmac at the start, a tangle of wheels saw two teammates from Crelan-Corendon going down, with Witse Meeussen getting back up for a solo effort at the back, leaving Tom Meeussen as a DNF.
Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions) saw daylight and hit the front of the field first, then Iserbyt took over at the mid-point of the opening lap which saw all riders strung out on the course. The World Champion rode in seventh position but moved behind Kevin Kuhn (Charles Liégeois Roastery CX) and into third place before the barriers.
On the second lap, a fresh Nieuwenhuis, who did not race Saturday, took charge at the front. On a corner just before the flyover, Jens Adams slipped out of the parade and away from the main group. Next on the mucky surface at the barriers, Ryan Kamp went down and in the process took out Vanthourenhout. The two remounted and went into chase mode.
Iserbyt and Van der Poel drove the pace ahead, with Ronhaar and Niewenhuis in a tight quartet at the front, then Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Decueninck) and Kuhn leading a train of riders remaining intact and out of trouble. Vanthourenthout rode in 28th position on the third lap after his challenges, and changed his bike in the pits.
Ronhaar looked back as he led a small group across the line for a fourth circuit and saw Van Der Poel on his back wheel, with Iserbyt, Nieuwenhuis and teammate Nys in tow. Gaps were now forming, Van der Haar putting in a solo effort to catch the leaders, and lots of traffic still engaged within 5 to 15 seconds.
Starting the sixth lap, Ronhaar attacked on the straightaway and Van der Poel grabbed his back wheel, but the effort only increased the pace, with all challengers still intact. The young Baloise Trek Lions rider slipped in a corner, and Van der Poel launched his attack, with Nys matching pedal strokes and taking off with the Dutchman.
The duo sailed away for a few more corners, but Nieuwenhuis made up the gap quickly. Iserbyt and Ronhaar weren’t ready for a shakeup just yet, and along with Van der Haar, six riders came back together. Vanthourenhout had worked his way back to 11th place, but he began stretching his back on the bike and began to show evidence of fatigue.
Joran Wyseure (Crelan-Corendon) bridged to the front group to make it seven on the penultimate lap. But he would not see the front of the race as Van der Poel soon shot away, putting pressure on Nys and pursuers, the crowd increasing the volume of cheers as the World Champion surged.
On the final lap it looked to be a Van der Poel – Nys showdown, with only seconds separating the pair. Then Nys went down in a corner after the flyover and it shut the door on any chance of catching Van der Poel, who just had to focus on his own ride.
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