KALMTHOUT, BELGIUM – Telenet-Fidea’s Tom Meeusen took his first career World Cup victory in Kalmthout today after beating Sven Nys (Landboukrediet) in a sprint finish. Kevin Pauwels finished third on the snowy course and Francis Mourey was fourth on the day. With Zdenek Stybar still absent as he continues to rehab from tendinitis of the knee, fifth place was good enough for Niels Albert to maintain the overall lead in the World Cup.
The snowy course provided very few opportunities to pass with only one good line through most of the route, and after a rough start the Americans in the race had a tough time moving up. Jonathan Page was the top American in 28th with Ryan Trebon just behind in 32nd. Sean Babcok (53rd), Brian Matter (58th), Mark Lalonde (59th) and Ryan Knapp (63th) were the other Americans finishing the race.
France’s Francis Mourey and Steve Chainel had a strong start, but Chainel almost crashed into a tree while trying to follow his compatriot. World Cup leader Niels Albert took the initiative to chase down Mourey.
Albert and Mourey continued with Sven Nys, Tom Meeusen, Bart Aernouts and Kevin Pauwels following. Klaas Vantornout slipped away in a corner and took down some riders as a result.
In front, all the riders did their part of the work and tried to break clear, but it was Pauwels who created the biggest gap. Nys bridged up, followed by Mourey and Meeusen. Albert and Aernouts had to drop off.
Four riders turned into the final lap together battling for the win; Nys, Pauwels, Mourey and Meeusen. Nys kept the pace high in order to tire his rivals, then started the sprint from far out. but it was Meeusen who took the win. Pauwels finished in third followed by Mourey, Albert and Aernouts. Wellens finished in seventh, Simunek in eight, Dieter Vanthourenhout in ninth and Martin Zlamalik in 10th.
After the race, an elated Meeusen told Cyclocross Magazine Kalmthout was a special race for him, and he was especially happy to have his first World Cup win come so close to his home in Essen.
“This is definitely the biggest win of my career, and it’s super to win here just 10 kilometers from my front door,” he said. “It’s my third victory of the year, but it’s definitely the nicest.”
Meeusen added that, though his bike handling helped him today, his familiarity with the course in Kalmthout was also a big factor for him. “My technique is pretty good,” said the former U23 Belgian Champion. “I’m also a mountain biker, and mountain biking also helps my technique. And when it’s icy and snowy and flat and technical, that’s for me. But this is one of the tracks I’ve trained on since I was younger, so I know the track really well. That’s also an advantage for me.”
For Meeusen, who, as a first year elite rider, has not always been selected for the World Cup team, the victory was also somewhat of a vindication, showing he deserves to be included among Belgium’s best. “It’s really difficult in Beligum,” he said. “Today Sven Vanthourenhout is home, and he’s also a good rider. In Belgium we have ten good riders, but only seven places for the World Championships. That’s really difficult, and every week you have to ride good or else you drop out of the selection. The Worlds are still a month and a half away, and I hope I get the selection, but you never know.”
Second place finisher Sven Nys echoed Meeusen’s self assessment, saying the young racer has proven himself a skilled rider on technical courses, especially in tricky conditions. However, he added that Meeusen still needs time to develop as a racer.
“In races like this, of course (he’s very good),” said Nys. “Last year he also won some races and was really good when it was icy and snowy, because his technical skills are really good. So that’s what he’s good at, but now he needs some power. He is still really young, and in races like Apser-Gavere, Koksijde, and the Koppenberg, he’s not strong enough. But on races like this where he can use his technical skills, then he can win a World Cup.”
Belgian coach Rudy De Bie also said he thought Meeusen had a bright future, but that he would not push him too hard too early in his career. “It was a spectacular, unpredictable race,” he told Cyclocross Magazine. “He’s one of the youngest, he’s from here. He didn’t race yesterday and had a little more in reserve. I’m saving him, he’s one of my youngsters. When you race too much at that age it’s very tough not only physically but mentally. “
Nys, meanwhile, told reporters that he also had a tough, physical day, and had to overcome both tired legs and equipment problems on his way to the final sprint with Meeusen. “It was not a good finish for me. I didn’t feel the power in my legs to do a really good sprint. Tactically, I did what I must do by staying in the front, but I didn’t have a good feeling to win the race,” he said. “I changed my tires a lot, and I didn’t feel that I had the good tires on. I had a lot of grip, but the speed in my tires wasn’t good. It was a problem, and technically I made some mistakes too. So I didn’t feel really strong. Yesterday (at Scheldecross) I was strong, but of course, Meeusen did not race yesterday, so maybe that’s why he won today.”
While Meeusen and Nys battled in the front of the field, the American contingent was largely stuck further back. Jonathan Page, the best American finisher of the day, said he didn’t have a great start, and found himself stuck for long sections of the race.
“This race is a lot of singletrack, and there’s very little room to move forward,” Page said. “So if you have good luck and have a good start, you can either stay there or maybe more forward, but it’s hard to keep making up space. You try to have a little bit of power on the road, but you can only move up one or two places. It’s just an all out sprint every time you hit the road. But it’s a long race when you’re in the back.”
Brian Matter, now a veteran of European racing, said he was a little bit disappointed with a 58th place finish.
“I was here last year,” he told us, “the conditions are like last year. I had a flat with 6 to go, I’m a little disappointed that I got lapped, but I think I was just a little off from traveling.”
Meanwhile, Mike Garrigan, the top Canadian finisher in Kalmthout, in 42nd place, was one of only a few riders who told us he benefitted from a good start. “I just found a couple holes,” he said, “and on this course if you can get in line you’re good to go. The race is decided right away. If you have fitness, you can move up maybe two or three spots a lap, and if you don’t maybe you lose a couple. That’s where I was, but it was fine.”