Van der Haar's first World Cup win since 2021 was a thriller
Lars van der Haar gave a commanding performance on a difficult and deteriorating cyclocross course in Maasmechelen, Belgium, on Sunday. The 32-year-old Baloise Trek Lions rider put his competitors on their heels throughout the final four laps of the eight-lap race, ultimately beating out second-place Eli Iserbyt by 21 seconds and third-place Laurens Sweeck by 27 seconds.
Van der Haar not only earned his first World Cup win since Nov. 14, 2021, when he won in Tabor, but he took over the World Cup leader’s jersey. He leads Iserbyt by one point and teammate Thibau Nys by two points in the standings.
The race was characterized by strong teamwork among the Baloise Trek Lions. Pim Ronhaar set the tone early, driving the pace through the first three laps. When Iserbyt tried to go clear on Lap 4, Nys and Van der Haar chased him down, then Van der Haar broke clear and made life difficult for his competitors, riding a clean race while they struggled to stay upright in the muck.
“Today was a special race,” Van der Haar said after the race. “From the start we were in good position as a team. Pim rode an amazing first half of the race, really super strong. He opened up the cross for everyone. Technically really strong as well. Then Thibau takes over with Eli, which really broke open the race. Eli tried to slow down the pace, but I thought, ‘we can’t let that happen,’ because we had a good gap, so I just took over and tried to attack.”
Van der Haar’s hard work was nearly undone with two laps to go due to a tire puncture. Fortunately, he was near the pits, and was able to get a wheel change in time to maintain his lead.
“I had a little scare,” Van der Haar said. “I thought, ‘I can’t lose like this,’ but fortunately I could reach the pit in time, and didn’t lose too much of the gap. That also gave me a little extra anger to make it to the finish.”
Van der Haar didn’t know that the leader’s jersey was a possibility. It was previously held by Nys, who won his first ever elite World Cup race at Trek CX Cup in Waterloo earlier this month. Nys entered Sunday as one of the favorites to win after a torrid start to the season, but didn’t have the legs to stay at the front following a crash on the last lap, finishing seventh.
The 20-year-old is still well positioned for an excellent season, as are several other Baloise Trek men’s riders including Joris Nieuwenhuis, who finished sixth, and Ronhaar, who took 12th. All four of those riders were lined up next to each other on the front row to start the race.
The cyclocross seaosn is heating up fast. On Wednesday, the squad will be in Oudenaarde for the famous Koppenbergcross, which Van der Haar won last season. Then on Sunday, the Baloise Trek men will race European Championships in Pontchâteau, France. Van der Haar won the European Championship in 2021 and took second place last season.
If Sunday was any indication, every elite men’s cyclocross race this season is going to be an all out battle. Even more certain is that you should expect to see multiple Lions riders mixing it up at the front. This squad isn’t done setting off fireworks.