There was plenty to be experienced on this weekend in Belgium: epic weather, disappointed favorites, emotions and even a scandal
Day 1 – Drama, Disappointment and a Scandal
The opening of this years worlds could not been more dramatic. The sky was covered with thick clouds, stormy gusts blew heavy drenches into the faces of riders and spectators. A couple of thousand parking spots fell victim to the weather conditions even before the championships had started. And even the races were more thrilling and dramatic as usual.
It was not a big suprise when the first golden medal of the day went to the Netherlands when Jens Dekker was the undisputed winner of the juniors. Beeing the GC winner of the UCI Cyclocross Worldcup this season, Dekker was a frontrunner for the worlds. But when silver and bronze medal went to France with Mickael Crispin and his compatriot Thomas Bonnet it was the first surprise of the day. At least Jappe Jaspers had hoped to gain a medal for Belgium but he caught a bad day and finished seventh.
For the first time in history, there was a championship race for women under 23 and out of the sudden the next surprise was to happen. Evie Richards, an eighteen year old british teenie racer competing on her first international race ever easily pulled away from all contenders and conquered the rainbow jersey. The silver medal went to the czech girl Nikola Noskova and Maud Kaptheijns gained the second medal of this day for the Netherlands. But a disgraceful incident casted a dark cloud over the race : the UCI detected a motor inside of a spare bike of the reigning European champion Femke van den Driessche from Belgium when checking bikes in the pits.
Sanne Cant, reigning Belgian and European Champion was the runaway favorite for the race of the ladies elite. No other rider managed to take so many wins as confident as Cant. But championships are special in many kinds. Sanne Cant had a day as black as a crow, and had to face an unexpected defeat. After an exciting race dutch rider Thalita de Jong proved to be the strongest on this day and deserved winning the rainbow jersey. Caroline Mani gained the second silver medal for France, and Sanne Cant managed to win the first medal for Belgium when she finished third.
Day 2 – U23 : It ain’t over until the fat lady sings
The second day started with the race of the men under 23. For a long while, the race was an open clash of nearly all favorite contenders. Until the last but one lap it seemed to be completely open who would be able to end up on the podium. But when the second last lap came, the czech rider Adam Topalik started an attack an manged to gain a small lead. When the riders reached the finishing straight again, Toupalik started to cheer as he thought his dreams would come true. But then he heard the bell signaling the final lap, and his trainer cheering at him. That was the moment when Toupalik realised that there was another lap left.
Toupalik managed to continue and so he hit the finishing line for the last time ending up in a sprint with young Belgian rider Eli Iserbyt. But Toupalik hat shot his bolt, and so Iserbyt went for gold in the end. After all a smile appeared on the face of Belgium’s national coach Rudy de Bie, as the first golden medal of the championships found it’s way to the Belgian team. European champion Quinten Hermans additionaly managed to gain the bronze medal for the Belgians.
Belgium vs. Netherlands
Eagerly awaited the last race of this worlds truly was the highlight of the weekend. Roundabout 60.000 spectators came to see the clash of the best cyclocross riders in the world.
After three world cup victories in a row the outgoing world champion Mathieu van der Poel was considered to be an aspirant for a back to back win. But the Belgian Wout van Aert who had shown an outstanding performance throughout the complete season, had to be considered a red-hot favorite as well. Beside those two young titans European champion Lars van der Haar, and even Sven Nys who was about to ride his last worlds on this very day had really good chances to catch a suprising victory.
During the first two laps it looked as if it would become a race of three, when van Aert, van der Poel and van der Haar just rode away from the rest of the bunch. But the track seemed to be to demanding for such an early breakaway and so a bigger group containing all major contenders managed to close in. The cheering of the spectators reached a breathtaking level, when Sven Nys managed not only to close in but to take the lead of the bunch as well.
But this race should not be spared from dramatics. Just a few laps before the end, Mathieu van der Poel had to dismount from his bike and found himself stuck with his foot in the front wheel of Wout van Aerts bicycle. It seemed as if both riders lost all their chances to gain the title, when it took quite a long time to unscramble the situation. Lars van der Haar took benefit from that problem and managed to escape from the remaining riders. Quickly the gap between the European Champion and his chasers grew up to half a minute.
But young gun Wout van Aert stayed cool. First of all he got assistance from his compatriot Laurens Sweeck who guided him through the complete finishing straight, bringing van Aert back into the group of pursuers. Subsequently Wout van Aert started a breathtaking run-up to close up to van der Haar just before the second last gap ended. During the last lap both went into an intense race, fighting for the biggest victory in their career.
It took until the very last section of dismounted climbing until van Aert managed to pass van der Haar. The technical section following was into van Aerts advantage and he managed to drive away from the European champion. Van Aert nearly could not believe what had happened, and celebrated his victory with relieving exultation. Kevin Pauwels who raced in an unflashy way, managed to gain the bronze medal right behind Lars van der Haar.
Sven Nys finished on fourth position celebrating the end of his very last worlds appearance.