Defending Belgian champion Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) was in the eye of a media storm last week.
Sporza TV commentator Michel Wuyts stated, in a newspaper column in Het Nieuwsblad, that the defending Belgian champion may have tried to persuade the organizers of the Belgian championships in Waregem to make the barriers on the course less of an obstacle for him.
A week full of bribery allegations followed with the Belgian cyclo-cross world tweeting their opinions around. A troubled Vantornout, also set back by a viral infection, arrived in Waregem to defend his title in a completely different position than one year earlier when he was an outsider. The outcome for Vantornout wasn’t positive. He left the course and its more than 25,000 spectators before the end of the race.
“It’s been a very tough week. I don’t have to hide that away. I was the pivotal figure without a reason. In the future I think I’ll act differently towards the media because of this, weighing my words. I talked to [Omega Pharma - QuickStep manager] Patrick Lefevere. He knows that the media make and break. Media can be cruel.”
Not only Vantornout struggled at the Belgian championships. None of his Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammates made the podium, with youngster Jim Aernouts being their best rider in fifth place, out of fourteen starters.
The media storm around Vantornout caused a lot of negative publicity and team manager Jurgen Mettepenningen decided to file a complaint in an effort to have their name cleared.
Before the race it was feared that fans of Nys would turn against him but that didn’t happen. “It remained playful,” Vantornout said.
When he forgot about the last week, Vantornout sounded more upbeat. He clearly enjoyed his year as Belgian champion “It’s been a tough but fantastic year in the tricolore jersey. I enjoyed every bit of it. Nobody will ever be able to take it away and I’ll be able to ride with the tricolore colours on my arms for the rest of my career.
“I’ve had a very constant season but this is a top sport. Due to a viral infection I currently lack the percentages to fight for the win,” Vantornout said shortly after the race at his sizeable camper.
The 31 year-old skipped his participation at the Rome World Cup round in order to get healthy for the championships. Instead, Vantornout did a training camp in Calpe, Spain.
“In hindsight one often makes other assumptions but it was the only option we had to try and be good. There are simply no miracles at this level. If I had been able to follow Nys, I would have marked his wheel. Sometimes I need an incentive in order to be good but this [media storm] didn’t help.”
Instead Vantornout abandoned the race in which he was never in contention for the victory and in the closing laps also out of contention for the podium. “Once you reached the top you realize that the only spot that matters is first place. Three years ago I would have battled on but once you had the jersey it’s different.”
As most top cyclo-cross riders Vantornout will now focus on the world championships of February 2 in Hoogerheide. “For now I’m looking forward to having dinner with my wife and daughter. After that... I’m doing everything
I can to reach an appropriate level.”