After the fourth round of the Superprestige Series the proudest rider on the podium in Gavere, Belgium wasn't winner Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor), but 23-year-old Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea). After a tactical race the young Belgian was the best of the rest behind the unbeatable Pauwels.
One day earlier, during the third round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy in Hasselt, the explosive rider took a lot of initiative but he fell just off the podium. After winning his first big race last season in the Superprestige round in Gieten, Meeusen clearly has taken another step forward this season. Not taking the unimportant first races in October into account Meeusen hasn't finished outside the top-10, punctuated by today's second place result.
"I knew I was going well and that one day it would turn out fine but every time there was some minor mishap that pushed me back," said Meeusen. "I've been chasing this podium result in a big race for so long and now it finally happens.
"I love the kick of winning but if you don't win often it probably makes it even more special and you chase it even harder. The level has risen and if you look at today's podium everybody was riding for Telenet-Fidea last year. It's doesn't make it easier for our team to ride on the podium nowadays.
"I'm enormously proud that I can offer our sponsors a podium result. It's not totally fair to claim second place because Sven [Nys] and Zdenek [Stybar] took much more initiative today but I'm very pleased with this."
It seems like focusing on the podium is the most realistic option if a man like Kevin Pauwels is amongst the starters of a 'cross race this season. "If there's a serious climb in the course like we had today, but also in Ronse and at the Koppenberg, then Kevin is favored by 10 to 20 percent. Uphill he is enormously strong. He's the perfect climber with his beastly legs and small upper body," Meeusen said.
The cyclo-cross classic in Gavere typically provides a muddy parcours but this time around the Belgian venue was dry and fast. Though Meeusen has excellent technical skills which favor him on those courses, he still longed for more mud. On fast courses riders rely on their competitors to stay in touch with the group and not open gaps. "That's it, and on muddy courses it's more a fight with yourself and that's why I prefer the mud. Now it's more nervous and all the time you have to fight for your spot. After an acceleration from Nys there was no room to get past Thijs [van Amerongen]. Everybody is riding at the limit when Nys goes and you have to dig even deeper to gain ground back.
"I wasted a huge amount of energy to get back in the front group. From there the only thing I could do was hang on. In the end the course favored me because I have a good sprint," Meeusen said.
One day earlier in Hasselt, Meeusen was far more in the picture and not only for making spectacular jumps over the tree trunks. "Yesterday I bluffed too much because I tried to win the race whereas today I focused more on getting a podium result," Meeusen said.
Today Meeusen's Telenet-Fidea teammate Bart Wellens made a solo move on the penultimate lap in search of a second place result, but in the end he was caught by the chase group. At the finish line Wellens said he wasn't particularly happy that Meeusen was leading the pursuit. "When I looked back I saw Meeusen in the lead. I'll have to look back at the video footage but I didn't understand that," Wellens said.
According to Meeusen he was trying to assist his teammate, not drive the chase back to Wellens. "It's sad to hear that because I was being the perfect teammate and easing off the pace in the group. We'll have to talk that through because it was my only intent to help our team to a podium result."
During the spring and summer months Meeusen also competes in mountain bike races. Competition is heating up for positions on Belgium's mountain bike squad for the 2012 Olympic Games, but Meeusen is realistic about his chances.
"I really like it a lot but the UCI points system keeps me from competing more in it. You start at the back while that start is even more important than in cyclo-cross because there are so many starters," Meeusen said. Meeusen started 130th on the grid for the World Cup race in Great Britain's Dalby Forest
With compatriot Kevin Van Hoovels already qualified as the first of two Belgian riders for the Olympic Games it's highly unlikely Meeusen will be chasing a team position in 2012. He needs to qualify individually with a top-12 at the European championships or finish twice in the top-16 at a World Cup round.