HOOGERHEIDE, Netherlands (VN) — Martin Bina (CEZ Cyklo Team Tabor) won a snowy, sketchy finale to the 2012-13 UCI cyclocross World Cup on Sunday.
The 29-year-old Czech escaped a powerful lead group with three laps to go and held off a chase from Lars Van Der Haar (Rabobank-Giant) to take the victory in what he later called “a very technical” race on a slick 2.6km circuit that saw many a rider slide or spin out.
The Dutchman Van Der Haar took second ahead of Swiss Simon Zahner (EKZ), wrapping up a rare Belgian-free podium. Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) took fourth with Niels Albert (BCKP-Powerplus) fifth.
“This is a gift for all the people who supported me these past few seasons,” said Bina, who suffered a serious knee injury a couple of seasons ago that required three surgeries and lots of rehab time.
“It’s a long time since my junior world championship already, but I had a good race at the world championships in Tabor [in 2010] with a fourth place, and then I got injured,” he said. “So now I’m coming back again.
“I don’t necessarily need snow and ice to perform, but I like to play with technique, and this is where I feel strong, so of course, I feel that my performance improves in these conditions.”
Albert took the overall World Cup victory with 540 points. Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) — who fouled his drivetrain late in Sunday’s race and dropped out of the main chase group to finish eighth on the day — nevertheless hung on to take second overall with 515, followed by Nys in third with 506.
The Sunweb rider, who had hoped to overtake Albert for the series title, said he made “small mistakes” that cost him.
“This is unfortunate, but it is like that,” Pauwels said. “Bina was the most skillful today.”
Fast and furious
Van Der Haar got off to his usual strong start before being squeezed into the barriers and crashing on a dicey right-hander.
Radomir Simunek (Kwadro-Stannah) led for most of the lap until the pits, where first Nys and then Pauwels took over. And as the first lap came to a close there was a four-man lead group with Albert leading the pursuit.
Simunek and Pauwels were the aggressors early on, forging a lead group with five to go that contained Bina, Zahner, Van Der Haar and Albert, with Nys in hot pursuit and Francis Mourey (FDJ) just behind.
Van Der Haar attacked past the finish line and into the next go-round, but Simunek kept him close, and with four to go it was Zahner, Simunek, Van Der Haar, Bina and Pauwels off the front, with Albert dangling slightly off the back after botching a fast, right-hand descent and ricocheting off some thick course-side padding.
Bina blasts off
Then, heading into three to go, with the snow pounding down, Bina found himself with a slight advantage. By the pits he had a half-dozen seconds, and while he would slide out once on the increasingly slippery circuit, so did nearly everyone else, and the Czech would hang on to claim the victory in the final race of the World Cup season.
After Pauwels dropped his chain on the penultimate lap, Van Der Haar had another go in the bell round, soloing to within a handful of seconds of the leader. But he would have to settle for second on the day, just ahead of Zahner.
“It has gone really well since Rome. I wanted to be good in this period, and it’s working, so I’m happy,” said Van Der Haar. “I really wanted to be good at nationals, and we really tried to do that, and it worked.
“I don’t know if I can bring my form up any more for the worlds. I don’t think I can be any better than I am right now, but as long as I don’t get sick, I definitely won’t be shit.
“My plan was to peak at nationals, and then you’re automatically good at worlds. I didn’t want to peak for worlds because I’m still pretty young and I really wanted the national title more than the world championship.”
As for Zahner, he said a podium finish made it “a special day” for him.
“If you look back even to the under-23s, I have pretty much all my best results in snow and ice,” he said. “But I think I also have a long story of not winning the Swiss championships and then being very good the weekend after.
“I won an Under-23 World Cup in 2005, and I got seventh last year in Lievin the week after nationals. So it’s like my payback day.”
Luck played a role, too, he said.
“I never had a real crash, and in the last lap Simunek crashed twice, and the second time he crashed I realized I would be on the podium,” he said. “Of course, that’s part of racing on snow and ice, most of the guys crashed at least once. But still, I’m a bit lucky.
“I’m not feeling bad because of that, it’s cool to be the lucky guy once. I’ve had plenty of races where I was the once who was unlucky too, so I’m happy today.”
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.