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By Brecht Decaluwé The Belgian Cyclo-Cross Championships are likely to end up in a mud battle...
By Brecht Decaluwé
The Belgian Cyclo-Cross Championships are likely to end up in a mud battle between current champion Sven Nys (Rabobank) and the Fidea team, featuring world champion Erwin Vervecken and Nys' ultimate rival Bart Wellens. The course in Hamme-Zogge - known from the Bollekescross - was reshaped into a puddle of mud due to recent heavy rain showers. Tim Van Nuffel (Stevens) did a reconnaissance ride on the course and was quoted on Sporza, "back home they wouldn’t even put pigs in such a drenched meadow!" National coach Rudy De Bie was more diplomatic, saying, "it’s very heavy, but not impossible."
One of the favourites for the national jersey in Belgium is Bart Wellens (Fidea), he reconnoitred the course on Thursday. "This is why I became a cyclo-cross rider: for the rain, the coldness and the mud," Wellens said. "For Tom Boonen this is too much, but not for a real cyclo-cross rider. It’s a good course although I could be set back at three minutes either," Wellens continued. "It’s a fair course so the strongest rider will win here, it wont be someone who follows all day to beat us in the sprint."
The battle in front will probably bring about a fight between Sven Nys and Fidea. Bart Wellens was asked about the Fidea team tactics. "We [at Fidea] all want to win the Belgian National Championships, but we will not chase each other into defeat. Still, Vervecken shouldn’t expect any presents from me," responded Wellens, making it clear that cyclo-cross is still an individual sport.
One of the dark horses who could sneak away with the jersey is Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb), who spent most time on the course in Hamme-Zogge. "This isn’t a real present... this is the toughest course we’ve seen this season, but it’s not over the top," Vanthourenhout said. The mud will force the riders to run a lot which isn’t really one of Vanthourenhout's specialities. "I expect myself to battle for the medals," the leader of the new Sunweb-Projob team predicted. Still Vanthourenhout pointed out who he expected to win on Sunday. "After one lap on the course only one question went through my head: Where do you get rid of Vervecken on this course? You can’t run away from him," Vanthourenhout commented further.
Another dark horse is Klaas Vantornout (Fidea), although the talented young rider can’t seem to regain his good form after a crash in Torhout. Afterwards, Vantornout got ill and currently he’s on antibiotics; still Cyclingnews.be expects him to start on Sunday.
Nys, Vervecken and Wellens don't need to fear for Niels Albert (Palmans) - who hurt them all in Loenhout - as the young ace will race in the U23 category where he'll probably get little resistance from Dieter Vanthourenhout and Rob Peeters.
Current world champion Erwin Vervecken and current Belgian champion Sven Nys didn’t do a reconnaissance ride. Nys has won almost everything this season and is the biggest favourite for the win on Sunday - a position 'the cannibal' didn’t like at all. "I can only lose," he said. "It’s only logical that I win while the others can still rescue their season," he pointed out. "I don’t really need that title to make something from my season, although it’s always nice to wear a special jersey," Nys said on Sporza. The UCI leader prefers to wear the jersey of Belgian champion instead of that as leader in the UCI rankings. He worked out a solution by planning to wear a jacket with the Belgian colours until right before the start, and getting it back on just behind the finish line.
On Sunday, we will know if Nys will have to keep dealing with that issue in the future.
Top favourites: Sven Nys (Rabobank), Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) and Bart Wellens (Fidea)
Dark horses: Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb) and youngsters Bart Aernouts (Rabobank), Klaas Vantornout (Fidea) and Kevin Pauwels (Fidea)