After a late season start in December, 24 year-old Lars Boom (Rabobank) quickly stamped his authority with a victory at the Zolder World Cup in only his fourth race back. But less than a week later, his dreams of snagging his fifth National jersey were almost erased by a fall in the GP Sven Nys in Baal.
While leading the GP Sven Nys last Saturday, Boom crashed hard on a muddy technical descent, smacking hip-first against the immovable fencing. A few minutes later, he abandoned the race with one hand on his back, clearly writhing in pain. While nothing was broken, he sustained extensive bruising on his lower back that required several days of rest. With the Nationals Championship to be held this Saturday in St. Michielsgestel on a traditionally fast course with lots of turns, requiring power to repeatedly accelerate, will Boom have enough time to recover?
While his competitors wish him well, they plan to keep their own designs for winning the jersey intact. There are four challengers in particular who have a real shot of standing on top of the podium. They are Boom’s teammate Gerben de Knegt and AA Drink Teammates Eddy van IJzendoorn, Thijs Al and Thijs van Amerongen.
Gerben de Knegt: De Knegt is definitely one of the more dangerous riders for Boom, as he finished second in Nationals last year and won the title in 2002 and 2006. This is proof that he can lift his game for the big events. He has also consistently placed in the top 10 of all classification events (World Cup, Superprestige and GvA Trofee) and had a few visits to the podium. His recent results do not necessarily reflect his fitness level, as he has been riddled with bad luck the last couple of races. But if his fourth place in Zolder World Cup two weeks ago is any indication, he is easily on form to take the win. But will Rabobank teamwork come into play?
Thijs Al: Al enters the race with a bit of vengeance for last year’s Championships, where he just missed top honors. “Last year I almost won, but I crashed in the last corner, and then my chain fell off , and Lars [Boom] overtook me. To win, you have to be in the best shape of the season. I am feeling better every race, but you also have to be a little bit lucky.” As for his infamous holeshots that won him races as grand as the Zolder World Cup two years ago, Al plays down their importance. “It’s different than a normal race because it’s smaller. I think there are five riders who can win. It’s a fast track but also really technical. It’s going to be a tough race, but the start may not be so important.” In the last three years, Al finished the Dutch Nationals with two second places and a third.
Eddy van IJzendoorn: This season van IJzendoorn has really raised his game a notch, scoring some top-10 finishes in major events and showing his face at the front more often in recent races, such as Fidea’s Tervuren last Sunday, where he led for part of the first lap. But what makes him most dangerous is that he has won on the National Championship course two years ago against a stellar international field. Weather conditions, though, can disrupt his hopes for the podium as he flourishes on fast courses on the dry side. Van IJzendoorn explains, “It’s a fast course with a lot of corners, so that’s good for me. I hope that it’s freezing, but I don’t think that will happen [chuckles].” Van IJzendoorn is especially looking for a top result to increase his market value as his AA Drink contract expires March 1st.
Thijs van Amerongen: Van Amerongen is another rider who has shown significant improvement this season and has been consistently strong with a top-10 result in all major classifications. Last year he placed fourth in the National Championships, so he is clearly looking to better his result this time around.
While the top five placings in the Dutch National Championships will most likely be filled by these guys, there’s always a chance for surprise. As pundits often say, a National Championship is a special on-day race where anything can happen.