Michael Vanthourenhout beats Laurens Sweeck to score Belgian cyclocross title

Michael Vanthourenhout (Bingoal-Pauwels Sauzen) added a first Belgian championship title to his palmares in an epic edition in Loenhout. The European champion cemented his status as top-mudder by riding Laurens Sweeck (Crelan-Fristads) off his wheel in the final lap.

Sweeck seemed to have the measure of Vanthourenhout but, in the heavy rain-soaked race, one small mix-up in the material zone proved to be enough to swing the race in favour of the Bingoal rider after all the other competitors had fallen behind.

"I'm very happy," Vanthourenhout said to Sporza. "It was really a nice duel between me and Laurens.

"He was just a little better in running. In the last lap I felt that it was gradually running out, so I tried to be the first to get out of the run. That turned out to be enough."

In an incident-filled first lap, Thibau Nys (Baloise Trek) took the hole shot in hopes of being a contender for his first elite national title, pulling Sweeck and Vanthourenhout clear. However, the son of the great Sven Nys took a tumble in the opening minutes and found himself chasing in third the rest of the race.

Eli Iserbyt (Bingoal-Pauwels Sauzen) also crashed in the first lap and took a while to pick himself up and could do no better than fourth.

The race was then between Sweeck and Vanthourenhout, two of the top mud-riders, as the skies opened up over Loenhout.

Sweeck and Vanthourenhout traded turns attacking on the mud-strewn course, with a critical moment coming on the penultimate lap when both riders came into the pits for fresh bikes. Vanthourenhout came into the pit first and Sweeck, hot on his heels, nearly crashed into the discarded bike and the delay gave Vanthourenhout a few seconds advantage.

The effort cost him, and although the Crelan-Fristads rider closed down the gap, Vanthourenhout opened it back up again, notching out a few metres on the climb. Sweeck settled for silver, while Nys, in his first elite championships, was thrilled to claim bronze.

"I think that last gap is, I really had to give all my strength to reconnect," Sweeck said. "The course was a bit slippery and more treacherous, so mistakes creep in."

“I am disappointed, because I don't think it went completely sportingly,” Sweeck said, complaining that Vanthourenhout's mechanics had switched positions in the pits, leading to the tangle.

“I think we were evenly matched. [Vanthourenhout] deserves it in that respect. But I think you choose a [mechanic's] box before the start and you stay in it for the entire race. 

"I think tactically I made a good choice to be in the beginning. You saw that on the first lap, when I made a gap there. Then you come in the second round in the pits and then suddenly the opposition is in the same place as you, while they were at the back before. I don't know why there are rules that are not followed."

Sweeck was briefly held up twice. "That too. It was a bit deliberate from [Vanthourenhout's mechanic]. The bike… You feel that as a rider that this happens. That is still a bit much of course, but as I say: there are rules. They are made to be followed."

Vanthourenhout denied anything was done intentionally.

"That always happened behind my back," said Vanthourenhout. "It was chaos in the pits. If something went wrong, it was not intentional."

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Laura Weislo
Managing Editor

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's beat is anti-doping, UCI governance and data analysis.

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