In icy but dry conditions on day 1 of the Cyclo-cross World Championships in St. Wendel, Germany, the usually powerful Belgian squad failed to medal in either the junior or the U23 men's events. With Italian Davide Malacarne claiming the honours in the juniors and Czechs Zdenek Stybar and Radomir Simunek doing the 1-2 in the U23 race, Belgium's best result was Niels Albert, who ended fifth in the U23 event.
Albert was disappointed in his comments at the finish, telling VRT that, "At the start, I clicked out of my pedal. Then I knew that it would be hard. I had said beforehand: Simunek was the man, together with Stybar. On this terrain it was definitely their day."
Albert's compatriot and 2004 U23 World Champion Kevin Pauwels finished sixth, but was relatively satisfied with his result. "I couldn't have been better today," he said. "I gave it everything I had. In the beginning, I was staying with them OK, but then it fell apart."
In the junior race, Stijn Joseph and Jan Arnouts were Belgium's best performers in 14th and 15th. Afterwards, Joseph commented, "I'm satisfied. I didn't crash and I gave everything until the end. The start was hard, but I remained calm. But it is very slippery here, and you have problems staying upright."
With the women's race likely to be dominated by the Dutch, Germans and French, the Belgians' collective hopes will now rest with their armada in tomorrow's Elite Men's race. Sven Nys, Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken and Sven Vanthourenhout are all favourites for the title, but will they be surprised by the strong Czechs again?