by Dan Seaton
Antwerp, Belgium – Forty-five minutes standing around in the coldest conditions Belgium has seen in nearly a year is probably not the ideal preparation for a tough ‘cross race featuring several long, challenging sections of sand. But that’s how the elite men warmed up for Scheldecross, just across the Schelde River from downtown Antwerp, when a dog uncovered a grenade on the beach not far from the course. Racing in snowy, sub-freezing conditions in the wake of a storm that brought Belgian traffic to its knees yesterday, Sven Nys was undeterred, taking a 13 second victory over Under-23 standout Tom Meeusen. In the women’s race, Dutch Champion Daphny Van Den Brand rode away from Sanne Cant for a 15 second win, with new American arrival, Amy Dombroski, finishing in tenth.
‘Cross fans in Belgium have been treated to a number of unusual sights this season, but perhaps nothing so bizarre as the sight of 50 of cyclocross’s best riders trying to stay warm for 45 minutes while police decided how to deal with a grenade that was found just off the course only moments before the race’s scheduled 3:00 start.
When police eventually surrounded the explosive with a thick wall of sandbags and ruled the race safe to contest and the riders finally took to the course, it was Czech racer Radomir Simunek who, apparently, managed to stay the warmest. He shot off the front, riding comfortably in conditions more familiar to his home in Eastern Europe than relatively mild Belgium.
But Sven Nys, who recently joked that he was becoming an old timer but looked nothing of the sort today, answered Simunek’s attack decisively and quickly took the lead in the race, which was shortened to 45 minutes due to the delay. In the tough conditions only Dutch rider Gerben De Knegt could match Nys’ surge. Nys, however, quickly made it clear that he wanted no company, powering through the snow and sand to open a substantial gap over the rest of the field.
Nys entered the final lap with a gap of nearly half a minute over the nearest challenger, Meeusen, and rode conservatively, allowing Meeusen and Zdeněk Štybar, who had attacked off the front of a large chase group of some seven riders, back into the race a bit. But Nys’ lead was secure and the Belgian Champion rolled across the line well ahead of Meeusen, who, in turn, edged out Štybar for second. An American, Brandon Mart, started but finished last in 51st.
In the women’s race, contested earlier in the day, Daphny Van Den Brand rode away from Sanne Cant to take first by 15 seconds, and nearly a minute over third place finisher Sanne Van Paassen. Four North American women started the race. American Christine Vardaros withdrew from the race after a hard fall early on, Canadian and Cyclocross Magazine contributor Vicki Thomas finished in 20th, while fellow Cannuck Rachael Mirvish finished in 27th. American Amy Dombroski finished an impressive 10th in her first race since coming to Europe following US Nationals last weekend. “Ugly race today…not on the ball and off the wall. Good opener for Kalmthout Sunday, I hope!” Dombroski said via Twitter, then had a laugh about the grenade. “I felt like I exploded!…Anywhere else but Belgium the race woulda been canceled!”
Nys told reporters after the race that, despite several disappointing losses to Niels Albert last weekend, he felt good about his fitness coming into the busy Christmas racing season. “My fitness has been good for weeks,” he said, “And my confidence is good now that I’ve started the Christmas period, which is heavy, with a victory.” Albert, Nys’ main rival for much of the season, started slow and never managed to break out of the chase group, finishing seventh.
21 year-old Meeusen said he was thrilled to be able to mix it up with the “big boys” of ‘cross. “This track fit me like a glove,” Meeusen said, “and the ‘cross was fifteen minutes shorter, so it was in my favor. It is super to stand between these men after all the hard work I did in the summer.”
Just how a grenade came to lie on the beach during a major ‘cross race or what happened to it after the race remains unclear. Nonetheless, barring additional unplanned excitement, racing in Europe picks back up with the World Cup in Kalmthout on Sunday. Stay tuned to cxmagazine.com for complete coverage.
|1||Daphny VAN DEN BRAND||NED||32||37:19||20||20|
|3||Sanne VAN PAASSEN||NED||22||38:11||12||12|
|9||Sophie DE BOER||NED||20||39:50||2||2|
|14||Nicole DE BIE – LEYTEN||BEL||35||42:09|
|23||Steffy VAN DEN HAUTE||BEL||17||47:09|
|25||Kim VAN RENTERGHEM||BEL||21||48:19|
|26||Marijke DE PAUW||BEL||20||49:04|
|28||Katrien VAN LOOY||BEL||21|
|5||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||35||44:45||20||20|
|12||Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN||NED||25||45:36||6||6|
|23||Patrick VAN LEEUWEN||NED||25||46:54|
|30||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||25||46:54|
|35||Dave DE CLEYN||BEL||22||47:58|
|37||Jan VAN DAEL||BEL||23||47:58|
|40||Corne VAN KESSEL||NED||19||48:30|