After last week's heroics on the Koppenberg cyclocross fans were focused on the European championships in Frankfurt am Main, Germany; while the number of 'sideshow' events were limited the same protagonists were at it in Belgium, however.
Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) battled tempestuous weather conditions to win the GP Mario De Clercq in Ronse ahead of Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and birthday boy Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea). Top riders Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) and many others abandoned the race halfway - only nine riders finished the event.
Meanwhile, in his home country of Switzerland, Christian Heule dealt best with the rain there during the only international event of the weekend in Frenkendorf. Heule grabbed his first international win of the season by finishing half a minute ahead of compatriot Pirmin Lang and Polish rider Mariusz Gil (Baboco).
The race in Ronse was only a few kilometres away from the famous Koppenberg but qualified as neither an international or Superprestige event - UCI rules stipulate that it must be held nationally before being eligible as an international event. It was held under the Superprestige Series, although points weren't awarded.
"The rules are the same for everybody, both nationally and internationally," said UCI cyclo-cross representative Peter Van den Abeele. Exceptions have been made in the past for the UCI's own event in Aigle, but also for a race in the French-speaking part of Belgium, in Dinant. The excuse for the exception at those races then was that those events would boost the promotion of the sport.
Despite the absence of world champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea), American Jonathan Page (Planetbike) and British rider Ian Field all the top Belgians showed up at the start line in Ronse, probably making it the highly contested national event of the season. The only major Belgian absentees were Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) and Bart Aernouts (Rabo-Giant Offroad Team).
Halfway it was clear why the lack of points is crucial for the motivation of riders in a race. Rain and hail tortured the rider's backs and eventually only nine riders were motivated and strong enough to finish the race.
For winner Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) the lack of points and foul weather didn't tear down his motivation to race flat out. The Belgian champion won the Koppenbergcross and wanted to show once again that he's never worried to wear the mud of a 'cross course.
"Today was a good day for me but it almost went wrong. I missed my start a bit but luckily I could quickly move up. Then it started to rain pretty hard. There was a bit too much air in my tyres and suddenly my front wheel was gone. I couldn't keep control of my bike and before I knew it," said Nys after the finish.
"I lost 17 seconds on Albert who logically went flat out for the victory," Nys continued. "It's a cross that fits me really well. The course allows you to show your strength. You've got to search for your own rhythm because you can't go over the limit on a course like this.
"By crashing into the mud my hands got a bit cold. Niels is a rider who doesn't look back so I needed some time to come back on him but he didn't have enough time on me on this course. On every section I managed to take fractions of a second back on him and that was crucial. Once I bridged up with Niels I needed a bit of time to recover but once I took the lead I felt I was the strongest of the two."
Best of the rest
Runner-up Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) held the best cards halfway but he was unable to hold off Nys comeback during the final laps. After the race the former world champion was clearly struggling with the cold when interviewed. "I'm cold, really cold. I'm also very disappointed that I wasn't able to turn such a gap into a win. I seem only to have good days on training and never during the races. I also thought that I would've been able to hold on to it," he explained.
"Nys seems unbeatable on a course like this. My form is good but not super and if you want to win races these days you ought to be super. Hopefully it'll work one of these days because otherwise it'll start to get hard mentally," Albert was noticeably disappointed while talking with VT4 before an epiphany of sorts: "When I finally get my first win it'll feel nicer and nicer."
Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) turned 22 on the race day and he was shaking even more from the cold after the race. His presence on the podium was a surprise, especially after his disastrous start. "I always have to come back from behind although this time I was in the front row. Sadly enough I ran into some bad luck but still I moved up quickly. I'm very happy to get on the podium," Meeusen told VT4.
He explained why he didn't pull out of the race like many other did when it started to hail: "I kept riding to keep warm. It's a nice race with a nice course. It was good for me, a good day. I'm reaching my best form."
Fourth placed Jan Denuwelaere concluded that this race had been harder than the Koppenbergcross. "It was harder than the Koppenberg to me. Today I suffered from cramps, which didn't happen last week. Due to the cold I had pain on my hands and chest," Denuwelaere told VT4.
"I'm very satisfied with the result as I didn't expect it. Halfway I rode in seventh place and actually hoped to keep it."
Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) finished in fifth place and he was spotted trying to shake off the cold from his hands during the race. "Early on it was alright but after a few laps that deluge came over us. It changed the race completely," he explained.
"The cold was a opponent too. I've got the problem that I I need warm hands in order to hold grip on my handlebars but I wasn't the only one struggling with cold hands. You saw that some guys had to pull out even though they're in a better position than me."
On November 11 all European-based cyclo-cross stars are gathering in Niel, Belgium for the race in Niel, part of the Fidea Cyclo-cross Classics.