By his own admission, Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) will not be ready to contest the title of Belgian National Champion at Oostmalle this Sunday.
After being sidelined from the races for a good portion of the cyclo-cross season due to a cytomegalovirus, Wellens said that recovery is not going exactly as scheduled. "I expected to have my first peak at Nationals but the last two weeks my progress has been stuck at the same level."
Wellens remains hopeful that he will reach top form by World Championships three weeks later. "It's hard work to get my old shape back but step by step it's coming. I hope to start having progress again next week. I feel that I still need to train hard to reach my best fitness. But I look forward to Worlds. It can save my season," Wellens told Cyclingnews.
The physical struggle of getting back to shape was no surprise to Wellens, but his emotional reactions were what took him by surprise. "At the first race of the season where I didn't start, there were some fans holding a flag with some text on it. It was really nice to see that.
"When I rode my first race back in Koksijde, it was an emotional first two laps. Fans where screaming me to the front," exclaimed Wellens. " When I was sidelined from cyclo-cross for more than two months, I realized what I was missing - how much I love cyclo-cross."
Even if Wellens doesn't reach his peak this season, he has accepted it. "If my form doesn't come, next year is a new year for winning new races!"
For National Championships, expect to see Wellens fighting at the front in support of his teammates Tom Meeusen and Kevin Pauwels, both of whom have scored important victories this season. The hard workout he gets from this weekend's race may well play a role in his peak for Worlds.