There wasn’t much opposition against the impressive performance from Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles) at the Belgian championship in Ostend. Halfway the opening lap Van Aert was gone and behind him riders focused on second place rather than a pursuit on the lone leader.
Laurens Sweeck (ERA Real Estate-Circus) regretted that some riders opted not to spend energy in a pursuit. In the end, those who opted not to chase Van Aert also failed to get on the podium on Sunday. Sweeck finished in third place on the Wellington hippodrome, capturing his first medal at the Belgian championships.
In the week ahead of the race the 23-year-old was confronted with illness, which makes his third place quite a surprise.
"Even before I was ill I would’ve signed to finish third,” Sweeck said at the post-race press conference in the Thermae Palace Hotel, next to the Wellington hippodrome. "Eventually it turned out to be the best possible result. Second place was an option too but Kevin is going very strong and even without my illness it would’ve been hard."
Usually Sweeck, Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and European champion Toon Aerts (Telenet-Fidea) are the riders with a good start who try to hang on with Van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon). This time, both riders didn’t have their best start and other riders opted to let Van Aert ride away.
"Wout was gone and they quickly allowed him to go," Sweeck said. I was at quite a distance behind the main group and noticed that Toon did an effort but lacked support. With five men on your wheel you’re not riding flat out for the rest of the race. Toon probably lost ground too in the sand scrimmage. You quickly end up losing 10-15 seconds. When someone rides away it’s hard to close it back down. Someone made a mistake in front of me and then you quickly lose several positions.
"I didn’t want to blow up my engine during the first laps, taking my illness in mind. At the championships the first few laps are often faster than usually. The course was hard enough so after a while I bridged back up and from there you ride at your own pace.”
Sweeck regretted the racing style of some riders but didn’t want to blame them for their tactics. “Some riders choose to ride that way. I’m not that type of rider. I prefer to reach the finish, knowing I gave everything. I don’t like to play poker games. Everybody’s allowed to have his own racing style.”
Sweeck liked the course in Ostend, which aims to be selected as 2021 UCI World championships course. The massive temporary bridge that connects the hippodrome and the beach at the North Sea was a key obstacle. The 21 degrees gradient of the ramps proved to be quite the challenge for the riders, especially in the descent towards the sand.
"I thought it was nice. It required some technical skills. It did start to become more dangerous with some holes and bobbles. It was nice but it was very hard, especially on the way back. In the last lap I was pleased when cresting the top, having it behind my back," Sweeck said.
At the end of the race Sweeck ended up battling for the two remaining podium spots with fast men Tim Merlier (Crelan-Charles) and Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games). Merlier overtook Pauwels and Sweeck on the final climb up the massive temporary bridge from the beach to the hippodrome and seemed to have the best cards in hand. Nevertheless, Pauwels was able to pass the duo in the fast, twisting final part of the course on the hippodrome.
"Merlier got over the bridge in an impressive way," Sweeck said. "He was very fast and I really struggled to keep up. I knew he was on Grypho and I had to hold back in the corners. I tried to pass him in one of the final corners, which succeeded. Then I went flat out because I was on Rhino’s. I had a gap. I was pleased to reach the finishing straight with a bonus of a few metres because I feared to sprint against Merlier."
For the remainder of the season, Sweeck is targeting the World championships, the two remaining World Cup rounds and the two remaining Superprestige rounds.
"I’m third in the World Cup and the Superprestige series and I’d like to hold on to that position. My form is good but Kevin Pauwels isn’t going bad right now. I’m going to do everything I can during the upcoming weeks. My form should be good when arriving at the world championships and hopefully I can display that good form over there."