By Brecht Decaluwé in Knokke-Heist, Belgium
Jurgen Roelandts (Silence-Lotto) was the unexpected winner of the Belgian Championships. The 22 year-old took the first professional victory of his career in a bunch sprint. He popped ahead of cyclo-cross specialist Sven Vanthourenhout and good old Niko Eeckhout in coastal town Knokke, where the Belgian riders had covered 254 kilometres on a flat but windy course.
The much disputed pre race favourite Tom Boonen was not helped by his team-mate Wouter Weylandt who touched his rear wheel and crashed himself. Tornado Tom was then taken to the side of the road by Eeckhout and eventually finished fifth.
Roelandts, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday in three days, was overwhelmed by joy after crossing the finish line. "I really can't believe it... a whole year in the jersey ... my first victory," Roelandts started to realize that he would be wearing the "tricolore" for the next 365 days.
"I didn't see anything of the crash, it happened behind me," said Roelandts, who has always ridden for Lotto on its youth teams. He didn't turn pro until this year after he finished his studies, earning a bachelor of physical education and movement science. By claiming this victory Roelandts has shown that he dealt well with the transition from school to pro racing.
"It was each man for himself in the finale, but eventually I ended up on the wheel of Greg [Van Avermaet], and he piloted me splendidly; the whole team rode divinely today," Roelandts said to Cyclingnews while heading for the podium in Knokke.
"I think the guys from Silence-Lotto were in defense all day long and probably they were losing heart when we went to the front with our team in the finale," said Boonen. "Nevertheless Roelandts launched himself perfectly in the sprint and he is the well deserved winner," Boonen said after the race, while standing in the doorway of the Quick Step team bus surrounded by hundreds of fans. "It's a pity that I couldn't defend my chances too well, but you won't hear me say a bad word about that boy," Boonen applauded the winner from the Silence-Lotto team.
Weylandt took a couple of other riders down with him, like Jurgen Van Goolen (Team CSC) but Bert De Waele seemed to be the biggest victim with a broken collarbone.