by Dan Seaton

Asteasu, Spain – Sven Vanthourenhout, who just a few weeks ago was sidelined by overtraining, showed he is back on form yesterday when he took the win in the Asteasu Ziklo-krossa Saria in Spain’s Basque Country over a handful of Belgium’s top racers.

The race, which was headlined by five Belgians, gave Spanish riders a chance to test their legs against some of the best competition in the world, and the Belgians a chance to add an extra hard workout to a few weeks spent training in the comparatively mild conditions in southern Europe. But the Spanish contestants were no match for the five Belgians—Vanthourenhout, Sven Nys, Klaas Vantornout, Bart Aernouts and Erwin Vervecken—who swept the top five. Only Vervecken failed to match the pace of the riders in front, crossing the line about 80 seconds back from the leaders.

Throughout the race the two Sunweb-Projob riders, Vanthourenhout and Vantornout, worked together against the Belgian Champion Nys. After the race, Vanthourenhout credited teammate Vantornout with expert riding, helping to set up a gap large enough that Nys could not close it quite in time. With Nys, Vantornout, and Aernouts just centimeters behind him, Vanthourenhout powered across the line for his first victory in three years.

Vanthourenhout told reporters that he was very happy with his first win of the season and was back to feeling good. “I was definitely not the strongest in the race, but I could hang on. And, okay, it’s not for the ‘cross standings,” he said, referring to the overall UCI cyclocross rankings, “but it’s still a boost.”

The top Spanish rider, Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez, crossed the line less than ten seconds behind Vervecken, just ahead of countryman Isaac Suarez Fernandez.

Notably absent from the race was World Champion Niels Albert, who was attending the presentation of the Kristallen Fiets—the Crystal Bike—an annual trophy presented to Belgium’s top cyclist by newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws . Albert eventually ended up third in the standings behind 2009 Paris-Tours winner Philippe Gilbert and perennial Belgian favorite, Tom Boonen.

If Albert was disappointed by another third place finish, albeit one off the bike, he can take comfort in another award presented over the weekend, the Vlaamse Reus or Flemish Giant, presented annually to the top Flemish athlete of the year. There he toppled tennis stars Kim Clijsters and Yanina Wickmayer, as well as top rival Sven Nys, who finished fourth.

Brief Results

1. Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel)
2. Sven Nys (Bel)
3. Klaas Vantornout (Bel)
4. Bart Aernouts (Bel)
5. Erwin Vervecken (Bel)
6. Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez (Esp)
7. Isaac Suarez Fernandez (Esp)
8. Egoitz Murgoitio Rekalde (Esp)
9. Unai Yus Kerejeta (Esp)
10. Daniel Ruiz Echeandia (Esp)