By Brecht Decaluwé
The Belgian Sunweb cyclo-cross team of Jonathan Page and Sven Vanthourenhout has been rather anonymous during the first races of the season but that is set to change if Vanthourenhout has anything to do with it. "I am back," the local hero said after making his comeback in the first round of the Superprestige series at Ruddervoorde, Belgium. The race was Vanthourenhout's first race back after he underwent abdominal artery surgery three months ago.
Despite being caught up in one of the many crashes along with world champion Erwin Vervecken (Fidea), he managed to make contact with the five leaders of the race with only two laps to go. "When I crashed with Vervecken my hand was hit by something," Vanthourenhout said as he showed the blood marks on his shaking hand. "I was afraid; I didn't want to overcome something now. It would be hard to work on a come back after not even one race," he continued.
Eventually Vanthourenhout finished seventh just 19 seconds behind winner Sven Nys (Rabobank Continental Team), and was pleased with the result. "I'm more than happy about what I did," said Sven Vanthourenhout, "although right after the start I was shocked as it was long ago that I was in so much pain. I think I left my lungs at the first climb," he joked. "I was afraid that I wouldn't recover from those efforts but gradually I got better in this top quality field. It pleases me to see that the form is OK even though all the other riders already rode three or four races. Before the start of this race it was hard to make predictions but now the team will be happy," Sven Vanthourenhout smiled.
Before the race Sven Vanthourenhout pointed out that the team had never put any pressure on him to return too fast. "Being healthy is what really matters," team manager Jurgen Mettepenningen said. Before the start, Mettepenningen expressed his feeling that the team should start to come to the fore, especially Vanthourenhout and American Jonathan Page. "From now on the team should become visible. Sven Vanthourenhout is always expected to finish in the top five. We didn't want to force him in coming back but from now on he knows what to do," Mettepenningen smiled.
"From Jonathan we expect that he becomes a regular top ten finisher, and in his speciality - fast races - he should aim for the podium." When it comes to the World Championships in Treviso, Mettepenningen felt that Page ought to have an advantage on the fast course. "He is the silver medalist from the last world championships and his ambition is to do better this year," Mettepenningen smiled. "There has to be a healthy ambition since this is top-level sport, so you have to deal with the pressure."
After the Superprestige event in Ruddervoorde the Sunweb team was delighted to see they had their man in the finale for the first time this year. "I feel our team is gradually improving, but we have to be honest and say that up until now it wasn't good. We weren't in the picture enough, or allow me to say that we were invisible," Mettepenningen admitted. "For now I feel that Tom Vannoppen is improving, just like Jonathan Page. Our American seems to be like Vervecken, he has a diesel engine." The World Champion has had modest results during the season for the past two years, but still managed to win back to back world titles. If Page can copy that style then nobody needs to worry.