Bart Wellens marked his return to competition with a 13th place finish at the fourth round of the Cyclo-cross World Cup in Koksijde, Belgium on Saturday. Although Wellens finished 1:48 down on his Fidea teammate and race winner Zdenek Stybar, the result justified his controversial inclusion in the Belgian selection for the race
"I felt like a newcomer to 'cross racing," Wellens told Sporza. "Little things, like what to put in my sports bag, when and what to eat…that sort of thing. It's nice to be back out there."
The race was Wellens' first major race of 2009, having missed the first two months of the season due to cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Belgian national coach Rudy Di Bie's decision to include Wellens in the Belgian selection for the Koksijde race had raised the ire of some of the rider's compatriots. Dieter Vanthourenhout and Jan Verstraeten both protested Wellens' inclusion after they were forced out of the squad as a result of Di Bie's selection.
Wellens' performance on Saturday proved the wisdom of Di Bie's decision as he matched the season-best performance by either of his detractors. Vanthourenhout recorded a 13th place finish at the third round in Nommay, France, while Verstraeten's best result was 15th at the second round in Plzen, Czech Republic.
For Wellens, his performance also cleared any personal doubts he may have about his form in the lead-up to the race. The two-time World Cyclo-cross champion and 2003 World Cup winner said he doesn't expect it to be long before he returns to top form.
"Now I feel satisfied. It was a difficult hour, but I needed it. This was one of the best courses this season," said Wellens. "For now I'm behind, but I hope that within a month I'll be back in the thick of the action at the front of the race."
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