On Saturday afternoon, Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) captured one of the most surprising wins of the cyclo-cross season. The fists from the 33-year-old Belgian went through the air a couple times when he finally reached the finish line of the GP Rouwmoer in Essen, Belgium, after a tough battle through the muddiest course of the European season so far.
Wellens won the fourth round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy, his first big win in two seasons. Luck was on the side of the veteran racer in Essen as cyclo-cross star Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) abandoned while leading the race during the penultimate lap due to a mechanical.
Wellens' win came after five hectic weeks in which he twice thought about ending his career. After another lackluster performance during the World Cup round in Igorre, Spain, Wellens had opted to skip weekend of racing.
"Did I believe in it? The people around me believed in it. [After Igorre] I didn't feel right anymore. I'd gone very deep, and I was arriving at the races with fear in the back of my mind; I wasn't able to dig deep," Wellens said.
"Although many people blamed me for not riding last weekend, I needed that to get back on the right track. I felt I was going better, and today everything went my way. Before the race, I stated that winning in Essen would be a miracle... I needed a super day and the big four [Nys, Albert, Stybar and Pauwels] needed to have some sort of problems. This win is very nice, but maybe it's not good that I won right away. I have to thank a huge amount of people which I will not do by name because I would forget some of them, and I don't want to do that," Wellens said.
A little later, Wellens got more specific and named physiotherapist Albert Volders. "He's a guy of the old school. When a rider feels pain and shouts, most physios would stop, but he pushes even harder. Every day since Igorre, we've done sessions of at least two hours and in an hour, I have to be there again. After our first session, I was bruised everywhere and I thought it wasn't going to get better. He told me that my legs were the worst he had worked with. That wasn't nice to hear, but it meant there was room for improvement," Wellens said. When asked about his usual physiotherapists, Wellens didn't want to blame them. "We did sessions twice a week, but apparently, they didn't go deep enough."
Besides the new physiotherapist, Wellens and his team also analysed every other factor that could lead to improvement. "We've talked through my program, my diet, my trainings and so on. We're still awaiting the results from my medical check-up at the VUB (University of Brussels)," Wellens said.
Part of the build-up to the season was a trip to the USA in which he did some races and a lot of appearances. When asked by Cyclingnews whether he will head back to the USA next year, which will hold the world championships in Louisville in January 2013, Wellens had doubts. "Right now, I say no, but maybe with some adjustments. I had a great time there, but my planning wasn't great," Wellens said.
The string of poor performances in the last few weeks brought Wellens to the verge of ending his career. Despite nearly finishing as runner-up in Gavere, the veteran stated in Essen that he was close on calling it quits there. "During the race in Gavere and in Gieten, I thought about ending my career. I felt what I felt."
"Now it's different and I'm enormously pleased by the huge amounts of messages from the fans and also their cheers just a moment ago on the podium here. It's also for those people that I do this and I have to thank them for their support," Wellens said.
Maybe it was just for one day, but the old Wellens who battled it out with Nys weekend after weekend was back and many die-hard fans of Wellens enjoyed a glorious afternoon. Wellens was all smiles although he tried to lower the expectations.
"Tomorrow [World Cup in Namur] is another hard race, and usually I struggle during the second day of the weekend," Wellens said before ending with one of his classic statements when asked whether he was again leader of his team. "No, well... Part of the big four? Yeah, you can write that, 'Wellens is part of the big five!'"