As if there wasn’t enough consternation ahead of the Belgian cyclo-cross championships in Waregem, with the much-debated positioning of the barriers, more commotion was added on the race day when top favourite Wout Van Aert caused a false start in the men's under 23 category.
Rules state that the rider who causes the false start is taken out of the race, just like in athletics. Instead, officials asked the other riders if Van Aert could take a back-row start.
One can only wonder what the rivals of Usain Bolt would have said when they were asked about the false start from Bolt in the 100 metres at the world championships of 2011. Bolt certainly didn’t chase the rest of the sprinters shortly after the start, like Van Aert did at the hippodrome in Waregem on Sunday afternoon.
“There were five lights and all were red for a long time. It seemed endless and I got nervous and took off. I admit I made a false start and should’ve been relegated, but the way it happened was wrong. A lot of mistakes were made,” the 19-year-old told Sporza from his camper, shortly after his relegation.
Race officials added to the consternation when they hesitated to apply article 5.1.047, which concerns the procedures after a false start.
“The officials didn’t dare to take a decision, and he suggested the back-row solution. One rider – who I will not name as it doesn’t matter – raised his hand. It’s sad they don’t have the guts themselves to apply the rules,” Van Aert said.
Eventual winner Jens Adams (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) agreed with Van Aert. “Everybody was moving forward and Wout was the victim. He was the one who looked back after the start, suggesting to re-take the start. It was confusing. It was so slow, staying red for so long. It felt weird to keep standing still. Then they asked us who was against [...] I think it was [Gianni] Vermeersch or [Tim] Merlier who said he had to go out. Asking us, I don’t think that was ok,” Adams said.
Possibly the moment of the championships occurred a few moments later. Van Aert left the front row and got sidelined but when the lights turned green he sped behind the pack, leaving the officials behind in despair. In no time Van Aert overtook most of the pack but then the officials blocked his way.
“The fact that I took a start much later than the rest and rode in fourth position at the end of the first laps says enough. What the other rider did is not what I would do but the officials are to blame the most. Then they told me that I would be suspended if I didn’t leave the race and I didn’t want to risk that. I was in the best position to win the race and then it’s really sad to be taken out,” Van Aert said.
Patrick Demunter, head of the race officials, reacted after the race. “Wout Van Aert started a few moments before the official start. Then we applied the rules that take the rider out. It’s hard. That’s why we asked the other riders if they agreed to let him start at the back. Some riders didn’t agree so we applied the rules,” Demunter said.
Many riders blamed the system that is used for the start, with lights turning red one after the other and then all turning green. “The system from the UCI World Cups is better,” said winner Adams.
Third placed Laurens Sweeck (Kwadro-Stannah) agreed. “In that system the lights turn green one after the other. Most disturbing is that the officials put the responsibility for Van Aert’s departure in our hands. If they want to do that they can make us choose the start system too and it’ll be different, that’s for sure,” Sweeck said at the post-race press conference.
This season Van Aert has been the only rider who managed to fight up against big star Mathieu van der Poel (Kwadro-Stannah). He won the World Cup round in Namur and is second in the World Cup standings.