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Van der Poel was in a class of his own in the cyclocross race in Leuven, taking an impressive solo victory ahead of Meeusen and Pauwels

Photo: John de Jong

CYCLO-CROSS

NEWS

KEVIN PAUWELS

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

MATHIEU VAN DER POEL

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

TOM MEEUSEN

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS
04.01.2015 @ 16:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mathieu van der Poel got the perfect dress rehearsal for the Dutch championships when he took an impressive solo victory in today’s Soudal Classics race in Leuven. The Dutchman rode the final three laps of his own while Tom Meeusen beat Kevin Pauwels and Laurens Sweeck in a three-rider sprint to take second.

 

While most have been talking about Wout van Aert after the impressive victories in Loenhout and Baal, Mathieu van der Poel has flown under the radar. While van Aert is training under the Spanish sun, the Dutchman proved that he is ready to challenge his archrival when he won today’s Soudal Classics race in Leuven.

 

Already from the start of the race, van der Poel showed that he was among the strongest riders in the race and he was ready to strike while an impressive Laurens Sweeck set the pace for the first few laps of the race. The youngster was riding do fast that the front group was quickly whittled down to just five riders, Sweeck, van der Poel, Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen and Philipp Walsleben.

 

Suddenly van der Poel seemed to be out of the running for the win when he suffered a very untimely puncture. As he was riding in second position, Sweeck used the situation to get a gap and while he increased his advantage, van der Poel had to chase hard to rejoin the chasers.

 

Just as he had latched onto the back of the group, Meeusen launced a big attack that allowed him to bridge across to the lone leader. Hence, van der Poel got no chance to recover and he had to go back into chase mode.

 

His efforts paid off and at the midpoint, the five leaders were back together. While Sweeck continued to ride on the front, van der Poel briefly seemed to be suffering but it was all bluffing as he proved at the end of the fifth lap.

 

On the paved finishing straight, he launched a big attack and while everyone was looking at Sweeck to lead the chase, he quickly got a big gap. From there, the outcome was never in doubt and he constantly increased his advantage for the rest of the race.

 

While the winner was already found, the battle for second was an exciting one. Walsleben crashed out of the chase group and so it was left to Meeusen, Pauwels and Sweeck to fight it out.

 

Both Meeusen and Sweeck managed to get clear but Pauwels gauged his efforts perfectly and the trio was still together when they started the final lap. Sweeck tried to launch several attacks but he failed to make a difference and so it all came down to a three-rider sprint. Here Meeusen proved to be the strongest as he held off Pauwels while a disappointed Sweeck had to settle for fourth after a beautiful race.

 

For Sven Nys, the race was a big disappointment. In his final race as Belgian champion, he was dropped from the start and even though he rode hard all the way to the finish, he constantly lost ground and ended the race in 12th.

 

Today’s race was the final preparation race for the national championships that will be held next weekend in most countries.

 

How it unfolded:

It was Dieter Sweeck who got the fastest start as the riders took off under beautiful sunny conditions and the youngster strung out the peloton with his quick pace. In fact, he was riding so fast that he quickly got a small gap while Martin Bina was leading the chase a little further back.

 

When the Czech champion faded back, it was Julien Taramarcaz who took over the pace-setting and led the pursuit of his teammate. However, it was Tom Meeusen who accelerated in  muddy section and brought the lone leader back.

 

Just as the junction as made, Mathieu van der Poel made a surprisingly early attack and only Meeusen could keep up with him. As Taramarcaz went down while riding in third position, the pair escaped while a six-rider chase group formed behind.

 

Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys had both got a poor start and none of them had made it into the first big group. While the former recovered from his bad start and took off in pursuit, the latter was already a bit behind as they approached the end of the first lap.

 

At the first passage of the line, the front duo was caught and around 10 riders had gathered in the front. Moments later, Pauwels made the junction while Nys passed the finish area with a deficit of 12 seconds.

 

Joeri Adams accelerated as they started the second lap but he was unable to make a difference. Instead, Nys had found his legs and the Belgian champion had latched onto Pauwels’ wheel at the back of the front group.

 

The Belgian champion made an unusual mistake on a tricky descent and while Adams continued to power along, the veteran was again dropped. Meanwhile, van der Poel and Meeusen were riding in second and third position and were clearly waiting for the right moment to strike.

 

Going through the pit zone, Laurens Sweeck launched a wily attack and as his rivals hesitated a bit, he got a small gap. However, van der Poel showed his class and with Meeusen on his wheel he bridged across. As the trio slowed down, Pauwels, Adams and Philipp Walsleben rejoined them just as they started the second lap while Nys was already 20 seconds behind at the passage of the line.

 

Sweeck continued to lead the six-rider front group in the early part of the third lap and his fast pace was too much for Adams who was the first to get dropped. In fact, they youngster was riding so fast that he again briefly dropped his rivals but again van der Poel brought him back.

 

Sweeck refused to look back and suddenly disaster struck for van der Poel. Riding in second position, the Dutchman suffered a puncture and he quickly lost contact with the leaders.

 

Van der Poel’s woes allowed Sweeck to build a gap and it was now Walsleben who set the pace in the chase group. Meanwhile, van der Poel finally got a new bike but he was now far behind his former companions.

 

At the end of the third lap, Sweeck was 7 seconds ahead of Walsleben, Pauwels and Meeusen while van der Poel and Adams were at 17 seconds. Corne van Kessel was next but the Dutchman was already more than 30 seconds behind. Martin Bina, Vincent Baestaens and Julein Taramarcaz formed the next group while Nys led a bigger group that had lost 1.00 after just three laps.

 

Van der Poel proved his class and gradually managed to claw his way back to the first chase group. However, Walsleben’s pace was not fast enough and Sweeck was constantly increasing his advantage.

 

This was the signal for Meeusen to kick into action and the Telenet-Fidea rider launched a strong acceleration in a muddy section. No one was able to respond and with an impressive surge, he quickly bridged the gap to the lone leader.

 

Van der Poel had had to recover from his chase but now the Dutchman went back to the front. As he led the chasers across the line at the halfway point, they were 7 seconds behind the two leaders. Adams was losing ground and was now 32 seconds behind.

 

Sweeck was still not looking back and he did all the work in the front group. However, van der Poel had gone back up to speed and the chasers were getting closer to the leaders.

 

As they approached the end of the lap, Walsleben closed the gap to form a front quintet. When Sweeck accelerated again, only Meeusen could keep up with him as van der Poels showed a surprising sign of weakness but Walsleben and Pauwels managed to bring things back together.

 

When the front group hit the finishing straight at the end of the fifth lap, Sweeck finally slowed down a bit and this was the perfect moment for van der Poel. From the last position, he launched a strong attack and as no one responded, he quickly got a big gap.

 

Sweeck led the chase of van der Poel who continued to extend his advantage. As Pauwels took over, disaster struck for Walsleben who crashed out of the chase group which was now down to just three riders.

 

Sweeck only needed half a lap to recover from his efforts before he launched another big attack and he quickly distanced Pauwels and Meeusen. Meeusen was the next to accelerate and he quickly rejoined the youngster.

 

At the end of the sixth lap, the pair were 13 seconds behind van der Poel while Pauwels was 10 seconds further adrift. Walsleben was still trying to recover from his bad luck but with a time loss of more than 30 seconds, he was out of the battle for the podium.

 

 

Meeusen quickly dropped Sweeck as the Telenet rider was now going full gas in an attempt to get back to van der Poel. Meanwhile, Pauwels was riding at his own pace and he managed to rejoined Sweeck at the midpoint of the penultimate lap.

 

Meeusen’s efforts didn’t pay off and while he started to fade, van der Poel increased his advantage. Meanwhile, Nys was still riding his own race much further back and he was actually moving up through the ranks.

 

Sweeck and Pauwels rejoined Meeusen and as the trio realized that van der Poel was far ahead, they almost came to standstill in a small tactical battle for second place. At the start of the final lap, they had been distanced by 39 seconds and were more concerned with each other than the lone leader.

 

While van der Poel rode his own race, Sweeck set a modest pace in the chase group for most of the final lap, with everybody seeming to save some energy for the very finale. However, Meeusen made a stupid mistake in a running section which caused him to get dropped.

 

Just in that moment, Sweeck accelerated again and now Pauwels was starting to suffer. While the youngster built a gap, the Sunweb captain dropped back to Meeusen.

 

Pauwels is usually excellent at gauging his effort and he made use of those skills to maintain his pace until the chase trio was back together. While they again started to look at each other, van der Poel hit the finishing straight and he had plenty of time to sit up to celebrate his win.

 

Sweeck launched one final big attack in the mud but he was unable to drop his two rivals. As they entered the paved road, it was Meeusen who did a long sprint and he held off Pauwels to take second while a disappointed Sweeck had to settle for fourth.

 

Result:

1. Mathieu van der Poel

2. Tom Meeusen

3. Kevin Pauwels

4. Laurens Sweeck

5. Philipp Walsleben

6. Joeri Adams

7. Vincent Baestaens

8. Corne van Kessel

9. Martin Bina

10. Radomir Simunek

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