Lars van der Haar wins legendary Koppenbergcross with a dramatic comeback!

The Dutchman stormed to victory up one of the most notorious climbs in cycling

Lars van der Haar said he was in a “blind panic” on the final lap of the legendary Koppenbergcross in Oudenaarde, Belgium. He crashed on a tight corner after seemingly seizing victorious control of the race. Suddenly he was on his back foot, forced to chase a pair of strong riders working together as teammates.

But Van der Haar was the strongest man on the legendary course, and he would not be denied. On the infamous cobbled Koppenberg climb, he surged past a faltering Michael Vanthourenhout to score an iconic win.

“The Koppenberg was definitely a race I’ve always wanted to win at the elites,” Van der Haar said after the race. “I won it as an Under-23 [in 2011], but I still really really wanted to have that cobble in my house. I really had a good day today.”

Lars and his special duck!

Van der Haar was one of the most animated riders throughout the race, though it was his teammate Thibau Nys who helped drive the early pace and created a split of six riders: Nys, Van der Haar, fellow Baloise Trek teammate in Pim Ronhaar, Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal teammates Vanthourenhout and Eli Iserbyt, and Lander Loockx.

Van der Haar repeatedly marked attacks by Iserbyt and Vanthourenhout, who cracked everyone except the Dutchman. During the final two laps, those three riders were left to contend the win for themselves. Then on the last lap, Van der Haar took the front, only for his wheels to lose their grip. The crash set the stage for his heroics in the closing meters.

“I didn’t know if I was still able to win,” Van der Haar said. “I knew I was still good and I tried to close the gap, and I think I was a little bit lucky that in the end it was Michael and not Eli that had the gap. And as I was coming closer to Michael I decided to let him stay there a little bit with a gap so that I could ride towards him in the sprint because I expected him to blow up a little bit on the climb. It’s always a huge risk of course, but it all played out well and I still had a strong sprint in the end.”

Pim Ronhaar taking on the brutal Koppenberg.

Van der Haar wasn’t the only Baloise Trek rider who had a big day. Ronhaar finished fifth and Nys finished seventh, giving the Lions three riders in the top 10 of the men’s race. And in the women’s race, Shirin van Anrooij took third and continues to round into form as an elite rider.

“It means a lot to me,” Van der Haar said. “I’m really happy with that win and happy for the team. It’s just a big win, especially after you’ve been riding with two guys on the same team who are trying to make a gap at every little corner.”

Shirin van Anrooij taking charge.

Prepare for European Championships

Van der Haar is asserting his dominance at an excellent time. On Sunday, Nov. 6, he’ll set out to defend his European Champion title in Namur. Last year, he had the “race of my life” as part of a historic three-win day for the Lions that included Lucinda Brand winning an elite women’s title and Van Anrooij winning the U23 women’s title. 

Van Anrooij will also race Sunday in hopes of repeating as U23 champion. The elite women’s race will take place Saturday, but it’s still unknown whether Brand will be able to take part. She broke her hand during a recon ride in October, and is still on the mend. She’ll decide at the end of the week with her team of doctors, physios and trainers whether she can safely race. If she can, she’ll be one of the most closely watched riders in Namur.

Thibau Nys has been tearing up the U23 ranks.

The men’s U23 race on Saturday could be one of the most closely contested races of the weekend, and both Nys and Ronhaar will be among the favorites. Nys has been the first- or second-fastest U23 rider in every race he has finished this season. Ronhaar edged him out in Oudenaarde and already has a U23 World Championship to his name. Their battle will be fascinating.

Here’s the race schedule for the weekend:

Men’s U23 – Saturday, Nov. 5, 1:15 p.m. local/8:15 a.m. ET
Elite Women – Saturday, Nov. 5, 3 p.m. local/ 10 a.m. ET
Women’s U23 – Sunday, Nov. 6, 1:15 p.m. local/8:15 a.m. ET
Elite Men – Sunday, Nov. 6, 3 p.m. local/10 a.m. ET

The live broadcasts for all four races are available on GCN+. You can also follow the Baloise Trek Lions on Instagram for updates from the ground in Namur. Get ready for one of the biggest weekends in cyclocross racing.