Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) won the one-day semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen in Waregem, Belgium, on Wednesday afternoon. The race is the first in a long row of northern spring classics. The win comes one day after the terrorist attacks in the country’s capital Brussels.
After the terrorist attacks, three days of mourning were declared and the terrorism threat is still on the highest possible level. Despite this the race was not cancelled in cycling-crazy Belgium. Debusschere narrowly beat Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) and Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) in the sprint of a small peloton. The podium ceremony was kept as serene as possible too.
“I’m very pleased that I’ve won. Being deeply satisfied isn’t possible on a day like today,” Debusschere said.
“It was a hectic sprint. Until the final kilometre I thought Greg [Van Avermaet] would stay ahead," Debusschere said. “My teammates did a fantastic job to bring him back but then I lacked somebody who kept me in front. I was very far in the final corner. I was no longer thinking about the victory but trying to get as close as possible to the podium. The headwind slowed everybody down. In the end I managed to pass everybody, making it a very good sprint. That was a great sensation.”
Those great sensations quickly turned around in different moods. After his win Debusschere raised his arms but then quickly lowered them. The terrorist attacks that hit Belgium one day earlier nearly cancelled the race and didn’t allow for much celebrating.
“I think all Belgians and far beyond were deeply shocked by what happened yesterday," he said. "Euphoria wasn’t appropriate, out of respect for the casualties and because it was a sad day for Belgium. Hopefully the people who’re staying home enjoyed watching the race and hopefully agreed that the race was held. Last night and this morning you’re not thinking about racing.
"There’s much more important than cycling. I wouldn’t have had any issues with it if the race wouldn’t be contested. Then again, everybody here worked very hard to be good in these races. I think we’ve got to pick up our normal lives as soon as possible. That’s why I’m happy that we started the race and showed that we’re not planning to hide away. Hopefully that’ll be the same for other activities, like football.”
That turns out not to be the case as next week’s friendly football game between Belgium and Portugal switched location from Brussels to Leiria in Portugal.
It’s hard to compare this victory in Dwars door Vlaanderen with his win at the Belgian championships in 2014, even though it’s his first win at the Spring classics.
“It was a much less hard race but the price that comes along with it was much nicer," Debusschere said.
While wearing the Belgian championships tricolour jersey, winning at the highest level turned out to be difficult, apart from a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico. A win in Dwars door Vlaanderen could be a breakthrough victory for him.
“Winning is a big difference," he said. "Two years in a row I finished in the top-10 in this race while receiving the confidence from the team."
His build-up to the classics was nearly ruined after a crash on the gravel roads of Strade Bianche, where he hit a tree. He started Tirreno-Adriatico with several bruised ribs.
“In the Tirreno I was in trouble, struggling with back pain after my crash at the Strade Bianche," he said. "I thought that all the hard work from the winter was done for nothing. Milan-San Remo turned out to be a good test which I passed very well. The confidence returned, especially after today. I worked very hard this winter to be good from Tirreno until... well, as long as possible. I’m good and the timing is right so I’m satisfied.
"Ghent-Wevelgem was the race I targeted the most, also because I’ve been good there a couple of times. It’s a course where I trained in the past in the youth category, at the Kemmelberg. It’s the race I rate the highest.”
Within the team not much will change, according to Debusschere. “It’ll stay the same. We’re functioning very well right now. We’ve got a strong Tiesj and a very good Jürgen who’s coming up. Those two remain team leaders in the big races that are coming up. I’ll see where I can end up.”
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