Dan Seaton, author of Issue 5’s article on amateur racing in Belgium, takes a deeper look at last weekend’s world championships. First up is his overview of the men’s race. Also see our live coverage of the race including race commentary by Tim Johnson, as well as Christine Vardaros’ take on her personal blog.
The final race in Hoogerheide may have wrapped up at 3:30 p.m., but the celebrations continued long into the night. With the race just over the border from Belgium, fans of the Belgian riders packed the course, cheering favorites Niels Albert, Sven Nys, and Bart Wellens (who took three of the top four spots), and jeering defending champion Lars Boom, who many view as the Belgian riders’ main rival.
Although Boom seemed to be well in contention early in the race, he faded badly later, changing bikes to try to find the right tire pressure, and consistently losing ground. Boom has had a season of ups and downs, with several strong races, but also several medical problems, including a urinary tract infection during November and an infected elbow after a crash in Loenhout, holding him back from racing.
In a post-race press conference, second place finisher Zdenek Stybar speculated that Boom’s struggles had more to do with the development of the race than how he felt, “It’s totally separate if you are 100 percent or not 100 percent. If you are struggling or not, it’s difficult to make a race when it doesn’t go how you want. He may have made some mistakes – and every rider did in the beginning. But it’s different than if your head’s not in it.”
Meanwhile, bronze medalist Sven Nys, for the second year in a row, was beaten at Worlds by a pair of much younger riders. “Last year a lot of the new generation of riders started riding with us. But when I think what I have done in the season – and the season was really good…I think I was the strongest,” he said, adding, “But, of course, Niels had some problems so I must feel really good about the result of today.”
Albert’s problems, to which Nys referred, included a crash in Gavere that led to a ruptured spleen and disrupted his season in November and December, and a crash at the beginning of the Belgian Championships in January that caused him to miss the lead group and possibly cost him the race. After the crash at the Belgian national championships, Albert launched a blistering chase back to the front of the race that brought him back to within meters of Nys before he simply ran out of road. After that race Belgian TV cameras showed Albert in tears over the outcome, and it was clear that Albert was bitterly disappointed by his continuing bad luck.
Albert said that after a trying season he was happy to win the biggest race of the year, but he also credited his Belgian teammates for supporting him during the race. “I think the first time we thought of riding as a team was in Zolder, where Bart Wellens and I felt that we must do something to beat as strong a guy as Lars Boom, and then everything started,” he said. “We did everything as a team. We had fun in the race. Everybody rides for everybody….It was the first time in ten years we were riding like this.”
Nys agreed, “It is nice to come to a world championship when everybody thinks about the same goal: winning the world championships for the Belgian riders. It was fantastic.”
Watching from the sidelines, the Belgian fans reacted to the team effort with nothing short of joy, screaming for the riders in sky blue who dominated the dynamics of the chase. One graying, bearded Belgian spectator, standing alone in the middle of a field next to the pits with his dog, said to me, “In my life I have never seem them ride like this, as a real team. The Belgians will win today. It is a beautiful thing.”