Defending champion and top favourite Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Charles) retained his Belgian cyclo-cross title on a foggy Sunday afternoon in Ostend.
The world champion humiliated the rest of the field by riding away early on in the opening lap. Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) was best of the rest at fifty seconds from Van Aert, just ahead of Laurens Sweeck (ERA Real Estate-Circus) and Tim Merlier (Crelan-Charles).
When approaching the finish line Van Aert made a shooting gesture and then hopped off his bike, lifting his Felt bike in the air.
“I had time to think about what to do at the finish. It was clear. It’s the first win for the new team. Also my new bike, I really like riding with it,” Van Aert told Sporza in the flash interview.
“I didn’t expect to be alone in front halfway through the opening lap. I felt good but didn’t expect it to unfold this way.”
It took Van Aert no more than two minutes to ride away from his rivals in Ostend. Shortly after the start a massive temporary bridge with a gradient of 21 degrees connected the hippodrome with the beach. When descending off steep ramp Van Aert powered away in the sand from Gianni Vermeersch (Steylaerts-Verona) and the rest of the field.
In the public-free area on the beach he found a fast line at the flood line before powering back in the deep sand. Two minutes into the race the riders reached the running section and Van Aert was gone. From there, Van Aert simply time-trialed towards his second title.
A dozen riders focused on the remaining podium spots. European champion Toon Aerts (Telenet-Fidea) briefly moved to the front of the chase group. After the opening lap Aerts and Vermeersch trailed Van Aert by 16 seconds.
“The race quickly seemed decided and I felt it was up to me to start the chase. I paid for those efforts because only in the final laps I recovered a bit from it. It was such a hard course,” Aerts told Sporza.
Van Aert’s team-mate Tim Merlier bridged across and took away all appetite for a chase. Halfway through the race the large chase group was reduced to eight men, trailing leader Van Aert by a massive 1:20. The eight riders were Merlier, Aerts, Sweeck, Vermeersch, Jim Aernouts (Telenet-Fidea), Pauwels and fellow Marlux-riders Michael Vanthourenhout and Klaas Vantornout. Sweeck and Vermeersch tried to get away a couple of times but were reeled back in.
During the seventh lap Vanthourenhout and Sweeck escaped again. This time Pauwels was the only rider to bridge back up; Aernouts and Merlier were keeping the group in sight.
Just before hitting the final lap Merlier managed to bridge back up with the Sweeck, Pauwels and Vanthourenhout group. The latter struggled in the final sand section and faded back to seventh place. Fast man Merlier moved himself in the lead of the group, reaching out to a podium spot next to his team-mate Van Aert.
“It didn’t work out. To be beaten in the final lap in a sprint is hard. I was riding with a Grypho profile and they were using Rhino’s. That’s where I lost it. I no longer wanted to risk a bike switch,” Merlier told Sporza.
On the second steep ascent back to the hippodrome Sweeck passed Merlier and on the slippery, twisting second half of the course Pauwels passed him as well. Pauwels saved the best for last and ended up being best of the rest. Despite being invisible for most of the race he captured second place at 49 seconds, his best-ever result at the Belgian championships.
One second later Sweeck captured the bronze medal. “I knew I had more grip so I went as fast as possible through the corners. I didn’t want to sprint against Merlier,” Sweeck said at the press conference.
Merlier no longer pushed on in the final minute, finishing fourth at ten seconds from Sweeck. European champion Toon Aerts finished just ahead of an anonymous Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), Vanthourenhout, Aernouts, Vermeersch and former Belgian champion Vantornout. In the background Vincent Baestaens finished fourteenth in Ostend. It earned him the Belgian title in the Elite w/o contract.
Young Eli Iserbyt is the world champion in the Men U23-category but was obliged to race in the Elite Men category on Sunday. He finished at a distant nineteenth place at nearly four minutes from winner Wout Van Aert.
|1||Wout Van Aert||1:01:15|
|18||Angelo De Clercq||0:03:56|
|21||Kenneth Van Compernolle||0:04:33|
|30||Dave De Cleyn|
|33||Bert De Wispelaere|
|38||Tim De Schuyter|