Second in the 2022 cyclocross world championship, there was nothing more in Sunday, according to Lars van der Haar. The Dutchman took silver behind Tom Pidcock in the American Fayetteville, at the 72nd edition of the World Cup. The Briton won the first world title of the three he wants to take on three different bikes this year.
Van der Haar, waiting for the plane for the return journey, slept on it overnight and is disappointed that he was too far away from the head at the decisive moment in the match. “That was when Pidcock ran off. I blame myself, although I don’t think I could have kept him from winning.’
According to the number two, the World Cup course and the circumstances in which the 36 participants completed the round of 3 kilometers nine times were heavily in favor of the only 22-year-old Olympic mountain biking champion and winner of the Brabantse Pijl, a road race. ‘The course was completely made for a good road racer’, says the pure cyclo-cross rider Van der Haar. The race was rushed at an average of 28 kilometers per hour. ‘I’ve never been able to do that in fifteen years. Pidcock also has his mountain bike experience for the sharp descents and he is a good climber. There was nothing to do against him. I was at my best and I’m proud of that.’
Iron grip by Van der Poel and Van Aert
The silver means that Van der Haar is now experiencing the best season of his career, six years after his second best. In the five intervening seasons, two men, who have raced against each other since the age of fourteen, kept international cyclo-cross in an iron grip. The level of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert was so high that, according to Dutch national team coach Gerben de Knegt, all other cyclocross riders got a kick out of it. “Lars too.”
Van der Poel and Van Aert, the world champions of the past seven years, were not there on Sunday. Their absence lit up the eyes of their competitors who had been cycling for crumbs all these years. ‘The title was up for grabs, a unique opportunity’, says Van der Haar afterwards. He was one of the favorites for the rainbow jersey, having learned again what winning is this season.
After all, Van der Haar has been wearing a different championship jersey for months. One with yellow stars. Against a force majeure of Belgians, the Dutchman won the European cross title at the beginning of November on the former largest rubbish dump in Europe, the VAM mountain in Drenthe. He was also the best in Europe six years earlier, when the European Cyclo-cross Championships were held for the first time. After that, Van der Poel won three times. Whether he could have beaten Van der Haar in Drenthe is academic, because the cyclocross rider/road racer/mountain biker was not at the start. Just like Van Aert.
More often on World Cup podium
Van der Haar is known for the World Cup podium. In 2013 and 2015 he was third and after that, in his best season, he took the silver medal behind world champion Van Aert in Zolder, Belgium. In that season, the reigning European champion had to leave the national title to Van der Poel. This year it was also for Van der Haar.
‘next level‘ and ‘extraterrestrial’ he says about the all-rounders Van der Poel, Van Aert and also Pidcock, ‘although he does not maintain that high level for a whole year’. Van der Haar himself is cut from a completely different cloth, because he focuses exclusively on cyclo-cross. He does road races in the summer, but those are training sessions. “To build up the fitness so I can pop every winter.”
Cyclo-cross is an hour of power explosion. The heart rate monitor indicates an average frequency of 170 to 180. ‘You are always on the verge of acidification.’ Under those circumstances it is quite an art to think a little clearly. “But you have to, otherwise you’ll miss a bend.” Also on Sunday in the World Cup cyclo-cross, Van der Haar had to keep thinking when the win was no longer there. Crossing calculating, playing games with your opponent: ‘You can only do that if you’re good. And that was me, yesterday.’
It didn’t produce the rainbow jersey this year, but maybe next year or the year after. Van der Haar is completely satisfied with the courses of Hoogerheide in Brabant in 2023 and Tábor in Czech Republic in 2024. “There’s a lot of climbing in it and I’m just good at that.” This is how Van der Haar now estimates his chances of a world title: one had, two to go.