Lars van der Haar emptied the tanks in an absolute slop fest
Lars van der Haar won his second straight Dutch national championship on Sunday, edging out Baloise-Trek teammate Joris Nieuwenhuis by three seconds on a cold, muddy day in Zaltbommel.
Van der Haar was gassed after his effort, barely mustering a fist pump as he crossed the line. He and Nieuwenhuis battled for more than an hour, with Van der Haar largely holding on for dear life to keep up his powerhouse countryman. Because of the conditions, the two riders spent nearly as much time off their bike as on it.
“It was more running than riding, and after having ridden so unbelievably many races and being sick the week before, I didn’t feel 100 percent,” Van der Haar said after the race. “And then I also encountered a super, super strong Joris Nieuwenhuis who completely choked me in the race. I couldn’t really do much more than close small gaps and try to follow.”
Van der Haar took the lead for good late in the final lap, surging past Nieuwenhuis on a muddy straight and taking a gap that his teammate didn’t have the energy to close. Van der Haar was running on empty himself. He slipped running up a staircase just before the finishing stretch.
“That last attack came down to my little toe,” Van der Haar said. “It showed on the last stairs, when I couldn’t even get up anymore, couldn’t lift my bike, couldn’t get my legs up.”
Van der Haar has been a podium fixture all season, and he had three race wins entering Sunday. His ironman effort in Zaltbommel is easily a season highlight, however. Van der Haar gave an all-time effort in conditions that would have tested even the most hardened cyclocross rider.
“It was very special,” Van der Haar said. “I’m really happy to be continuing in the stripes in the red, white and blue.”
Twenty-one-year-old Pim Ronhaar finished just off the podium in fourth to complete a dominant performance by Baloise-Trek’s Dutch men.
Thibau Nys takes bronze in elite Belgian championships debut
Thibau Nys was eager to make a statement from the start of Sunday’s Belgian elite men’s national championship race on Sunday. He got the hole shot, putting him briefly in the lead on Lap 1. But the conditions in Lokeren looked a lot like they did in Zaltbommel. Nys fell early in the first lap, and Laurens Sweeck and Michael Vanthourenhout took the front of the race and never looked back.
Nys “settled” for third, 1:42 behind winner Vanthourenhout. The 21-year-old rode a bold race, chasing by himself in bad conditions. When Nys took the podium, he celebrated with an emphatic fist pump.
“I think we can say that it was one of my best cyclocross performances in my career so far,” Nys said after the race. “Mostly because I didn’t expect it. Maybe in my dreams, but it’s always hard to make it reality.”
Nys has had a rollercoaster of a season in which he has raced primarily as an elite for the first time in his career. His early season results were especially promising, with a season-best fifth place elite finish at the World Cup stop in Waterloo and consecutive U23 World Cup wins in Tabor and Maasmechelen. In December and the new year, he has displayed both his tantalizing potential and unavoidable youth, waffling between top 10s and sub-20 finishes. On Sunday, he showed off the extent of his current capabilities.
“It feels like my first time really achieving something in the elite category,” Nys said. “I think it’s a next step in my career, and I hope we can build on this and try to be more and more consistent on the results.”
Even more impressive than Nys’ engine and bike handling in thick mud was his absolute determination to power through a difficult course without any support. The result also featured a nice bit of symmetry: In his last Belgian Championship race, Sven Nys, Thibau’s father and a cyclocross legend, also took third, just behind Sweeck on the podium.
“It reminded me of my dad a little bit, on his last National Championships, when he also came in third with Laurens on the podium,” Nys said. “It feels it feels strange, but in a good way. So I’m really, really happy.”