By Brecht Decaluwé
It was an old-fashioned cyclo-cross course in Niel where the weather gods decided that riders would run rather than ride on the flooded course. "Only one rider can ride behind the dyke, the rest need to run, it's too narrow there," complained Richard Groenendaal before the race. "There's not much I can do besides move the posts myself," the experienced Dutchman joked.
Eventually Groenendaal didn't have to move the posts himself since his request was heard by the organisers, and an hour before the elite men's race the 3km long course was broadened on the Rupel-dyke. What followed was a great spectacle between the cyclo-cross champions from the so-called Low Countries - Belgium and Holland - featuring experienced Bart Wellens (Fidea) against the young and talented Lars Boom (Rabobank).
After an epic 'cross where the race situation turned around dramatically in the final laps, Wellens emerged from the mud as winner in Niel, repeating last year's success where he benefited from Sven Nys' misfortune. By winning the second GvA-race, Wellens becomes the new leader in the GvA-trophy with a seven-point gap to UCI leader Nys.
With one lap to go it seemed like Dutch all-rounder Lars Boom would spoil the Belgians' party in Niel, but a flat tyre for Boom and the 'grinta' from Wellens turned things around. "This is my most beautiful win ever in Niel," four-time winner Wellens told Sporza TV. His win today was reminiscent of last year's Belgian championships in Hamme-Zogge, where he captured the national title in similar conditions, albeit without much competition.
"It was very hard today and Lars [Boom] was a very strong opponent," said Wellens of his Dutch rival - even though the two had been teasing each other this week in the Flemish press. The flamboyant Belgian then explained what happened in the penultimate lap. "Accelerating half a lap resulted in a blow during the other half of the lap, and I had just ran along when Boom attacked. I didn't panic and suddenly I noticed he was without speed on the bridge," said Wellens. "It was hard to stay focused since we were all worn out, but you had to focus to avoid mistakes and that's what I did; I think we were both equally tired."
Runner-up Boom explained why he couldn't continue his winning move on the last lap. "I lost speed due to a flat tyre," a disappointed Boom said. "Of course Wellens noticed this and that's how he could get away." The U23 time trial world champion wasn't as excited about the course as one hour earlier, when he showed a big smile before smashing into the mud. "It's still a nice course," he smiled. "This performance is nice. After the Koppenbergcross I knew that I wasn't in perfect condition. I didn't race this week and it worked well for me."
See full coverage of the Jaarmarktcross Niel here.