Lars van der Haar wins third Dutch national championship!

Also: Hattie Harnden's epic British title, and Lucinda Brand duels Marianne Vos

A furious period of cyclocross racing that began before the holidays was capped this past weekend with a fully-packed slate of national championship races. Riders will mercifully receive some time to breathe, with their first full week off since December ahead of this Sunday’s World Cup race in Flamanville.

Eyes are already turning towards the World Championships on Jan. 30 in Fayetteville, Ark. Baloise Trek’s Lucinda Brand will be fighting to defend the women’s title, while Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar expect to be in the mix to win the men’s race. But before we put our attention on that epic weekend, let’s look back at what just happened, starting with Van der Haar’s return to the top of Dutch cyclocross.

There are three jerseys in a year. I've got two now, and I'm happy that I was able to do this for our team.

- Lars van der Haar

Lars van der Haar retakes Dutch national title

Lars van der Haar won back-to-back Dutch national championships in 2013 and 2014, then ran into Mathieu van der Poel, who had won the last six titles while also dominating on the road and in mountain biking. Van der Haar was on the podium for five of those six races, including second place finishes in the last three.

Finally, with Van der Poel sitting out the race this year due to back issues, Van der Haar was able to return to the top step and retake the Dutch champions’ jersey in Rucphen. He did it by going solo early and never looking back. He took the win by 51 seconds over second-place Corné van Kessel.

Lars van der Haar showing off the European Champion jersey in Tabor.

According to Van der Haar, the race wasn’t as easy as it looked. After the race, he admitted he wasn’t sure he’d ever wear the jersey again

“It was actually a really nervous race for me before the start,” Van der Haar said. “For the first time I couldn’t win it, but I felt I could lose it. Because you still have some really strong opponents with Corné Van Kessel, as well as our own Lion, Pim Ronhaar.”

Van der Haar also won the European Championship last November, giving him a chance to acquire a coveted continent-country-world champion jersey trifecta this year if he can win in Fayetteville later this month. But for now, he’s content after a very good day.

“I found my pace and I was able to make it to the finish and get this Dutch title. And for me that’s something I’m really proud of,” Van der Haar said. “There are three jerseys in a year. I’ve got two now, and I’m happy that I was able to do this for our team.”

Hattie Harnden will wear the British stripes for another year.

Hattie Harnden battles conquers elements for 2nd elite British title

Harnden admitted after the race that “it wasn’t the smoothest of days.” She got off to a slow start after struggling to clip into her pedal, putting her on the back foot on an extremely muddy course. She managed to grind herself into the lead on the second lap, but a third lap puncture and bike change once again tightened the field.

In the end, Harnden was simply too strong for her opponents. Despite the series of obstacles, Harnden won her second elite cyclocross title by 15 seconds over second-place Annie Last and 28 seconds over third-place Anna Kay.

I can't believe it, it feels amazing.

- Hattie Harnden

“It was close in the end, but the tough muddy conditions are what I like,” Harnden said. “It was a really good course. Super muddy. Some real good up-and-down banks, so it was quite technical. Stairs and hurdles, too, so it had a bit of everything.”

As she rounds into form, Harnden has her aims set on Fayetteville. She hopes to be named to the British team soon. In the meantime, she’s enjoying the afterglow of her most recent victory.

“I can’t believe it, it feels amazing,” Harnden said. “And I was lucky to have a good support crew to keep me moving forward even when we had those hiccups. I’m really looking forward to wearing the British stripes for another year.”

Lucinda Brand in action at the World Cup race in Rucphen earlier this season.

Lucinda Brand takes second in Dutch National Championships

Lucinda Brand and Marianne Vos have had several incredible races against each other this season. Their latest put the Dutch champion’s jersey on the line, and the battle didn’t disappoint.

The two riders separated themselves early in the first lap, but during the second lap Vos began asserting the power that has helped make her a legend of the sport. Brand couldn’t keep her wheel over the second half of the race, and ultimately settled for second by 19 seconds. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado took third at 32 seconds back from Vos.

Brand and Vos should meet again in Fayetteville with a rainbow jersey on the line. You won’t want to miss it.