For the first time in many years, Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Revor) led a high-level cyclo-cross race. With only three laps to go in the fourth round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy in Essen, Belgium, on Saturday, the Belgian had a gap of 11 seconds on a high-profile chase group. Eventually Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) neutralized Vanthourenhout's attack and he ended up finishing sixth. After the race, Vanthourenhout was pleased to see he was finally getting back to a place in the 'cross peloton where he once belonged.
"During the first laps, I had an oversupply of energy and halfway through the race, I took the initiative. Once I was leading, I went full gas and in a state of euphoria, I probably overdid it," said Vanthourenhout.
"When they caught me, I punctured and in the last two laps, I paid for my efforts."
Vanthourenhout, a former U23 cyclo-cross world champion, was expected to be the successor of Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). However, the 2004-2005 season was the last one in which he which he showed such potential. That's when Vanthourenhout finished as runner-up in the general classification of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy and captured a bronze medal at the world championships in Sankt-Wendel.
From the 2005-2006 season onward, his progress seemed to be going backwards, and Vanthourenhout failed to live up to the high expectations. After a miserable last season, Vanthourenhout is feeling the pressure to deliver results so that he can renew his contract with the Sunweb-Revor team.
"The team wants me to obtain a certain position in the general classifications before they can guarantee a new contract," he said to Cyclingnews. "It doesn't seem realistic to me. To achieve that goal I should win a couple of rounds. I've already resigned myself to the fact that outcome isn't going to happen. That doesn't mean I'm no longer planning to show off this jersey though."
The 29-year-old Belgian spent four years with the road teams of Patrick Lefevre, but after spells with Rabobank and Sunweb, Vanthourenhout is now forced to look for a new squad. At the same time, Vanthourenhout made clear he was focused on getting back in form rather than finding a new team.
"I haven't talked with anybody. My manager Bob Verbeeck deals with that anyway. I've missed the first half of the season. I want to make up for that during the second half without setting specific goals; it just has to be good overall. We - my coach Paul Van den Bosch and I - did all we could to make it happen. The last few days I was feeling good and also during the reconnaissance," Vanthourenhout said.
During the past couple of years, questions were raised about whether Vanthourenhout had the mental strength to deal with the pressure that comes with cyclo-cross at the highest level. "Mentally I'm very strong. I've had a lot of bad luck, but despite that I still have the ambition and the motivation to continue working. Today's performance is good for the confidence," Vanthourenhout said.