“I’m not really sure I won.” That was one of the first things reigning under-23 world cyclo-cross champion Lars Van der Haar said after picking up the victory in CrossVegas, which explains just how close the finish was. Upon hearing the news of his victory ahead of Christian Heule (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld) and Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea), the quiet Robobank-Giant rider simply replied, “Nice.”
Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) was the earlier animator grabbing the holeshot ahead of Peeters and Van der Haar. In fact, Trebon spent much of the first part of the race on the front, which was all part of the game plan. “I like to race hard,” Trebon said, explaining that being out front “keeps yourself safe…there were a lot of crashes and sure you burn [a bit of] energy, but it keeps you safe.”
Tim Johnson (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld) was the first big name to suffer from a crash. Luckily for Johnson he was a few hundred meters from the pits and was able to make his way back up to the large lead group. The lead group would be further whittled down (to ten riders) by two-time world champion Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea), Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) and Trebon (LTS-Felt).
The 10-man lead group became a tactical chess match between Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld (Johnson, Christian Heule and Jamie Driscoll), Telenet-Fidea and the duo of Powers and Trebon. Finally, things began to pick up after Driscoll launched a solo attack gaining a gap of 10 seconds with three laps to go.
Behind, the group containing Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant), Van der Haar, Heule, Powers, Johnson, Trebon, Wells, Wellens and Peeters kept Driscoll at a steady gap until Wellens launched an attack midway through the next lap. “Driscoll had a big gap,” explained Wellens, “Johnson and Heule [had] stopped the group, so I chose [to] attack.”
Wellens quickly made his way across the gap, and proved too strong for the American, who qiuckly drifted back into the chase group. “I figured we (Driscoll) are stronger together, but he wasn’t there, so I [went] alone,” proclaimed Wellens. Wellens would hold his lead until Powers and Trebon pulled him back during the final lap.
“Rabobank didn’t take up the chase,” said Powers after the race, “Lars won, so he clearly played his cards right, but without Ryan and I keeping it together [Wellens] may not have come back.” Trebon also commented on the team tactics after the race, “Jeremy and I were the only ones [in the lead group] left without teammates, so we worked together. Powers had a good pull, then me, but I was done and just trying to hang on.”
As Trebon and Powers drifted backwards, Peeters put in a viscous counter-attack and lead the race into the final turn. However, the uphill drag to the line proved too much as Van der Haar was able to sneak up the inside and take the win in a close sprint finish. The photo finish would confirm Van der Haar’s victory as well as determining that Heule finished second and Peters was third.
“I was far behind when Wellens was caught,” explained an excited and exhausted Van der Haar. “I know I can sprint well and gave it everything I had.” Van der Haar attributed his last second victory to exhaustion, “the first three stopped because they were tired, I was pretty tired too,” but he had just enough left to take the win.
Wellens, who wound up eighth was upset with not winning, but is excited for the next few races, because his form is really good. Ten years ago Wellens raced on the road in the US, but this was his first time here racing cross. “The race was nice, I like it, I like the people, they’re amazing [and] I’m glad to be here for 10 full days.” Looking far into the future, Wellens admitted that he would like to spend more time here in 2012, but will have to see what the team says. We will have more on that in our interview with Wellens team manager.
Beyond the race, and the European invasion, was the start of a very interesting season for Powers. CrossVegas was the first time in four years, that Powers lined up on a different team then Johnson, and found it to be a mixed experience. “There were so many Europeans, so we (the Americans) were looking out for each other, much like at Worlds.” However, that general cooperation would eventually come to an end and Powers had to remind himself that things have changed. “It is weird not be on that team,” stated Powers. “When Jamie attacked I realised that I had to go where [in the past] I would have been able to sit in, but that’s racing.”
And what a race it was. The Cross After Dark series continues this weekend in Washington, where everyone but Van der Haar and Aernouts are expected to toe the start line. Perhaps the Americans will get their revenge.