History Made: First ‘Cross World Cup Win On Disc Brakes

Cross Disc Video

The majority of headlines emanating from the first World Cup cyclocross race of the season were dedicated to Lars van der Haar, winner of the men’s pro race. And by all means the first elite level triumph of the 22-year-old Dutch Rabobank rider’s career was a significant feat.

But perhaps even more significant was the bike — and components — van der Haar rode to victory on the famed Cauberg course at Valkenburg in the Netherlands. The race machine in question was a Giant TCX Advanced spec’d with Shimano Dura Ace Di2 9070 electronic drivetrain and Shimano’s new hydraulic disc brakes. This marked the first time in history that a World Cup race had been won by a rider using a disc brake-equipped bike.

“If you can out brake Sven Nys, who is known as the most technical rider in the peloton, that says everything,” said van der Haar, referring to the reigning world champion and a rider known as one of the best bike handlers in the business.

Van der Haar spent several months testing the new brake system leading up to the season, and was impressed right away, telling the Dutch cycling website www.cyclo-cross.info, “The larger braking force is definitely an advantage, especially in [very muddy races] where you need a lot of braking. The few times I reverted to cantilevers, it seemed like I could not stop.”

“I’m sure the others will follow soon,” added Rabobank team boss Richard Groenendaal.

This might sound odd to U.S. ’cross fans, who’ve grown accustomed to seeing the likes of Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson and numerous other riders tear up the domestic cyclocross circuit on disc brake-equipped bikes. But the top European pros have thus far been reluctant to embrace the new technology, scared off by the perceived weight penalty. Now that may start to change.

This baby-faced pro just might cause a revolution in top level cyclocross racing.

“Honestly, I think it’s a huge step,” said Tom Hopper, team mechanic for the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team, which includes Powers, who runs SRAM’s already-available HydroR disc brake system.

The only caveat, adds Hopper, is that van der Haar is one of the smallest riders in the pro cyclocross peloton, meaning there is less of a weight penalty since his frame is so small to begin with.

“[Weight] is definitely the biggest concern with the Euro riders,” said Hopper. “I’m sure the performance advantages will start to spread with the top European riders. But it’s not a complete home run yet. I don’t see many riders making the switch mid season. The top Euros have made their brake choice at this point in the year. They need to see more from hydraulic disc at the top level every weekend all season long. But personally, I’m convinced that they are the future of cyclocross brakes. With the weight penalty trending down every year, it will be hard to argue against them.”

Hopper also figured that van der Haar was a little more willing to experiment that his older peers. “It’s a perfect storm of sorts,” he said. “Van der Haar is on the rise and his sponsors have all jumped on board with disc. I bet it was much easier to convince a young rider like him then a veteran rider who’s been running the same set-up for years.”

Of course it would be unfair to attribute van der Haar’s win solely to mechanical advantage. The reigning Dutch national champ is a supreme talent, who already has a pair of U23 world titles to his name. But the fact that it was a wet and somewhat muddy in Valkenburg surely plays to the strengths of disc brake systems, which provide more modulated and controlled braking, especially in wet riding conditions.

“The true test will be if he can do the same ride on a really muddy race,” added Hopper.

That may be true, but the folks from Shimano are already understandably excited.

“This weekend’s win by van der Haar on Shimano’s new R785 hydraulic road and cyclorcross disc brake system at Valkenburg demonstrates that disc brake systems can win at the World Cup level,” said Shimano road product manager Dave Lawrence. “When combined with Di2 they make a formidable combination. It’s safe to assume that disc brakes will permeate more in competition and we plan to equip more top racers, and ultimately consumers, with this technology.”

RoadBikeReview.com will be getting an up close look at Shimano’s new disc brake system at the beginning of next month, and will post a full report soon after.

In the meantime, check out this video to see highlights from the men’s elite race from Valkenburg:

History Made: First ‘Cross World Cup Win On Disc Brakes Gallery
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Early Look

Van der Haar's bike was on display at the Eurobike trade show in Germany back in August, but didn't garner major attention until this past weekend.
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Stopping Power

Shimano’s new hydraulic disc brake system uses the same technology found on its popular mountain bike brakes. The ICE-Tech rotors are claimed to provide superior stopping power in all conditions — including mud.
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Lars van der Haar Wins

After placing third in the elite race at last season's world championships in Louisville, the young Dutchman proved that result was no fluke, winning the opening round of the 2013-2014 World Cup.
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On The Move

Van der Haar had a 20-second advantage over second-placed Kevin Pauwels by the finish.
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Lars van der Haar

This baby-faced pro just might cause a revolution in top level cyclocross racing.
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures in British Columbia, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, and Peru among many others. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in January, 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and edited a book on cycling tips. When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Lisa.


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