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Van der Poel Storms to First Elite Rainbows

On an again slippery course in Tábor, 20-year-old Mathieu Van der Poel took victory in the Elite World Championships. A very unfortunate Wout Van Aert was second, and Dutchman Lars van der Haar was third.

Van der Poel will be in Rainbow stripes for the year ahead.
Van der Poel will be in Rainbow stripes for the year ahead.
Patrick Verhoest

Van der Haar and Meeusen were quickest away from the line, but Mathieu Van der Poel soon moved to the front to set the pace. Perhaps wary of an attack after Van der Poel's Hoogerheide performance, he was closely shadowed by Van Aert. When the inevitable first lap attack did come, Van Aert was ready, and right behind at the planks, with a small gap to Meeusen in third. Van der Poel had another got a small gap close to the end of the third lap due to a slight mistake from Van Aert,  but the Belgian rider was on the case, until a mechanical had him impatiently pulling at his new blue bike at the entrance to the tarmac section. Van Aert was soon up on his bike, but the mechanical problem had cost him momentum, morale, and most importantly, ten seconds. Ant McCrossan, meanwhile, was talking about long socks.

Van Aert was soon up to the all-Belgian chase group, consisting of Meeusen and Pauwels, as Van der Poel stayed in the lead. The Belgian contingent caught Van der Poel as he made a mistake at the planks, and the riders regrouped, with Belgians Van Aert, Pauwels and Meeusen and Dutch riders Van der Poel and Van der Haar. Van der Poel then stepped on the throttle, and pulled Van Aert along with him when again, this time at the 500 metre point, Van Aert's blue bike broke. By the end of the lap, Van der Poel led by 5 seconds from Pauwels. Van Aert? 6th, looking furious, 16 seconds down.

On lap 3, Van der Poel started to build a larger advantage, as there was more trouble for Van Aert. Unseen by the cameras, he "took the turn before the first pit too fast. I fell on my shoulder, on the side of my fracture," reported Het Nieuwsblad. This left him a minute down. Too far behind? By this point, Pauwels was taking up the chase, as Van der Haar sprinted to catch up. Meeusen was beginning to look laboured. Van der Poel had an 11 second lead. Van Aert, back on his trusty black bike, was dangling ahead of the Nys group, 50 seconds back.

Pauwels continued to chase Van der Poel, dragging along Van der Haar, who'd promised not to work against him on Thursday. He was taking quite a chunk of time out of the Dutch rider, but was he beginning to run out of steam? He made a gesture to Van der Haar. Van der Poel was extending his advantage again. He had 17 seconds by the end of the lap. Van Aert had regained 3 seconds.

Van der Poel continued to lead, Pauwels continued to chase, Van der Haar continued to follow, and Van Aert continued to sprint, going into fourth at the pits. Finally, at the midway point of the lap, Van der Haar got out of Pauwels' slipstream, and stamped on the pedals in pursuit of his team-mate. He tried to drop Pauwels, and succeeded, and began to close the gap. He had taken 5 seconds back with three to go. Van Aert watch? 35 down.

Van der Poel started to look tired, and Van der Haar really came closer, coming to a closest of 7 seconds. However, then he got tired, and fell back a little. Pauwels was also falling back. With weakened rivals, it was really looking good for Van der Poel.

However, Wout Van Aert was chewing up the ground. He was within a stone's throw of Pauwels, sprinting, with a grimace on his face. Going through the checkpoint, van der Poel was 8 seconds ahead of Van der Haar, who was 10 seconds ahead of Pauwels. Soon after, Pauwels had been caught. Van Aert took up the chase on the tarmac, with Van der Poel desperately clinging to his slipstream.

Pauwels was dispatched, and Van der Poel led, coming onto the last lap. Shoulders rocking, Van der Poel led, as towards the end, Van der Haar was caught by Van Aert.

Van der Poel looked behind him, disbelieving, and punched the air in delight, with the realization that he was world champion. He crossed the line, emotional, tears rolling down his cheeks, and became the youngest ever world champion. Van Aert outsprinted Van der Haar for second. Van Aert banged his handlebars and shouted, frustrated. "I didn't win silver, I lost gold," he would later say.

"All race long I was in doubt," said the new champion. "But it will be awesome to ride in this jersey.

Belgium top the medal table with one gold and all four silvers, The Netherlands are 2nd, with one gold and all four bronzes, and France and Denmark are tied for third, with one gold each.

1: Mathieu Van der Poel *nl (20)

2: Wout Van Aert  *be (20)

3: Lars Van der Haar *nl (23)

4: Kevin Pauwels *be (30)

5: Klaas Vantornout *be (32)

6: Tom Meeusen *be (26)

7: Gianni Vermeersch *be (22)

8: Marcel Meisen *de (26)

9: Philipp Walsleben *de (27)

10: Marco Fontana *it (30)


13: Michael Boros *cz (22)

17: Sven Nys *be (39)

21: Ian Field *uk (28)

23: Jonathan Page *usa (38)

32: Jeremy Powers *usa (31)

Watch Mathieu Van der Poel in his rainbow jersey next weekend, at the Krawatencross and at Hoogstratem.