How Toon Aerts won a chaotic World Cup race in Zonhoven

The Baloise Trek Lions went 1-2 on a sandy, iconic course

Toon Aerts overcame a Lap 3 crash to win a chaotic elite men’s World Cup race in Zonhoven. Aerts made his valiant comeback with the help of teammate Lars van der Haar, who finished second just 10 seconds back of Aerts on the iconic course.

“The race in Zonhoven is one of the most beautiful races on the calendar,” Aerts said after the race. “Especially when you ride down in the sand pit, we have goosebumps. It’s like coming into an arena with crowds going wild! I didn’t expect a win was still possible after a little crash in the third lap.”

Toon Aerts won his first World Cup race since 2018.

Aerts fell after a tight corner while trying to lead a chase back to Laurens Sweeck, who was off the front. He was able to bridge back to the lead group with the help of Van der Haar, who formed a leading duo with Eli Iserbyt midway through the race, and forced Quinten Hermans to lead the chase as a non-Baloise Trek or Pauwels-Sauzen rider with victory ambitions. Aerts latched on, and eventually became part of a leading group of six riders.

On the second-to-last lap, Aerts regained his legs, and countered an attack by Iserbyt by running clear of his competitors on a steep, sandy ascent. Aerts hopped back on his bike to reach the summit while the others were forced to stay on foot, and gave himself a decisive gap.

“By moving to first position on the difficult sand sections I could make a gap,” Aerts said. “Then it was a time trial to the finish with one important job … don’t make any mistakes in the sand!”

Van der Haar, meanwhile, was still involved in a dogfight with Iserbyt and company. He pulled past Iserbyt at the final summit, and stayed ahead on the final descent into the finish line to take silver by just four seconds.

“It’s my favorite race of the year,” Van der Haar said after the race. “I had a really good day fighting for the win. In the end it was my teammate, another Lion, that took the win, which was really nice for our team, and especially that I could complete the podium.”

Lars van der Haar making his move in the sand.

Aerts scored his first World Cup win since winning back-to-back races in Waterloo and Iowa City in 2018. With the win, he moved up to third place on the World Cup standings. Van der Haar is fifth, putting two Baloise Trek riders in the top five. 

“At the finish I heard that Lars got second,” Aerts said. “That was just incredible to take a 1-2 today! Happy Lions, ready for some more classic races next week.”

You could say that Aerts enjoyed the day.

The weekend was a big success for the Lions squad as a whole. Aerts and Van der Haar also finished third and fourth, respectively, at Saturday’s Superprestige race in Ruddervoorde. Their men’s teammate, Pim Ronhaar, finished 10th in Zonhoven, and first among U23 riders.

In the women’s races, Lucinda Brand continued her excellent defending World Championship season by taking fifth in Ruddervoorde and second in Zonhoven. Shirin van Anrooij finished sixth in Zonhoven, and third in a tight battle among U23s, one second behind Fem van Empel and 16 seconds behind Puck Pieterse — all three riders are just 19 years old.