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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (VN) — A young Dutchman rode an impressive surge up the finishing straight Wednesday night to earn props from Elvis in a tactical and most dynamic Cross Vegas. Lars Van der Haar (Rabobank-Giant) came from deep in an elite group in the closing 200 meters to nip Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) and Christian Heule (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) at the line for the win the world’s first C1 event of the season.
With flash bulbs firing in the Vegas darkness, Van Der Haar wasn’t certain he’d won.
“(Peeters) was dying and I was dying. I just had the best sprint,” he told VeloNews. “I wasn’t really sure, but I was cheering already.”
Tense early going
Two-time world champion Bart Wellens was tight before the start. His teammate Peeters lined up in the front row on the right-side fencing and jumped out to the holeshot on the uphill start. Midway through the opening short lap Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) took over and drove the pace. The former U.S. champion, coming off a disappointing 2010 season, opened the throttle and shredded the field down to a lead group of around 20 riders. A second surge from Trebon a half lap into the race split that group, with Wellens and Daniel Summerhill (Garmin) the only riders to make the split.
If history is a guide, this move would have grown legs and turned into a long breakaway to be pulled back lack. But historically Cross Vegas is a dry affair, a criterium on grass, and the Desert Breeze soccer complex was a fast, damp venue Wednesday night. Unseasonably rainy weather left the soccer fields wet, with muddy, rutted corners developing midway through the men’s elite race. The water made the usually high-friction grass fast and a more traditional, though somewhat tactical, cyclocross storyline played out.
Number-one seed Bart Aernouts (Rabobank) shut the Trebon move down and attack after attack drew out an eventual lead group of 10 riders. Wellens and Peeters made the selection along with Aernouts and Van der Haar. Trebon, Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) and Christian Heule (Cannondale) were there too.
Things were antsy in the group, though, and Van der Haar ran into trouble when he tried to move up the line on a section of downhill, off-camber corners.
“I really wanted to go to the front and I just slipped away,” he said.
In the Dutchman’s path were Peeters, Summerhill and Tim Johnson (Cannondale).
Peeters and Johnson went down.
“I was almost able to bunny hop Tim’s wheel, but something got caught in my front wheel and just ripped me over,” Summerhill told VeloNews. “I landed on my bad shoulder and it took me a little time to decide if I would keep going.”
Johnson suffered a mechanical and was forced to pit. Peeters and Van der Haar rode hard to reconnect to the group.
“I wasn’t scared to not get back because I knew they were going to die and go easy,” said Van der Haar. “Rob was doing a really great job and we came back really fast.”
With six laps to go all three were back and the race reset on the front.
Telenet, Rabobank and Cannondale were the strongest squads on the front of the group and flexed. Wellens attacked and Peeters backed off, opening a gap that Trebon closed. Huele and Johnson and then Aernouts and Van der Haar did the same. Trebon worked with whichever teams weren’t represented in the various moves to shut down them down.
The group was on the limit. Powers hung near the back and bike lengths opened between riders. Driscoll took the front and ramped up his big diesel engine; Johnson backed off just a hair and there was quickly a 10-plus-second gap. Driscoll is no stranger to the front of a Cross Vegas race – he won solo in 2009 and was nipped at the line by Francis Mourey after a similar move in 2010 – and the Vermonter put his head down and drilled it. His advantage grew to nearly 20 seconds before Wellens shot out of the chase in the infield.
Wellens stood on his pedals with a violent acceleration atop the course’s first run-up and Johnson faded. Wellens was gone and caught Driscoll within the lap. Driscoll couldn’t hang and fell back while Powers led the chase. When Wellens’ gap went to 10 seconds Trebon took over on the chase, followed by Peeters.
“I was waiting, waiting to attack,” Wellens told VeloNews. “I thought with two we were stronger than alone, but he was not good enough.”
Wellens dislodged Driscoll on one of the course’s two run-ups.
“I may have been able to (stay with him) because I kept the same gap, but he gapped me on the stairs, riding them when I was running, and he got ahead of me,” Driscoll told VeloNews. “That was the name of the game today. I was losing a lot of time to guys that were cleaning every section and staying on their bike the whole time.”
Behind Wellens and a fading Driscoll, Trebon’s long frame stayed where he became accustomed last fall: on the front of the chase with little or no help.
“Ryan was marking the Euro guys,” said Driscoll. “He just wasn’t letting the gap go.”
Trebon closes it down
Van der Haar knew the gap would come back.
“I knew from last year it’s really hard to stay at the front here. It costs a lot of energy and you really need a lot of power,” he said. “I know there are a lot of strong guys here in America that want to win, so I stayed back and kept quiet.”
The gap stayed solid at seven seconds for over a lap, but when Trebon pulled Wellens to within three seconds just after the bell, Aernouts surged and Wellens blew. The Rabobank man attacked and Peeters followed on Wellens’ left shoulder. Powers jumped too and when the seven leaders came back together, he went to the front.
The leaders were in the last half lap and Peeters attacked a few hundred meters from the line. He carried a five-bike-length advantage into the final, 180-degree corner that led to the uphill finish straight. He stood and kicked, but his early-season legs pled for respite.
“On the finish I was totally broken and I couldn’t hold it,” said Peeters. “I was totally broken and could not turn the gear. It was very hard.”
Heule closed, but Van der Haar shot out of the corner like his never-before-ridden Giant had rocket boosters in the chainstays. Peeters simply didn’t have enough, particularly after chasing back from his crash. Van der Har hugged the left barrier, just as Mourey did a year ago, and came through on the point to win in what was oddly a clear victory from afar, but too close to call from course-side.
Powers narrowly missed the podium for fourth and the top American finish.