by Christine Vardaros
Sanne Van Passen on her way to the win © Gregg Germer
For the first time in many years, the racers and spectators at Bosduin’s Kalmthout event were treated to something completely foreign – warm sunny weather. This was an incredible change from last year’s conditions, which put riders on an ice track covered by a generous layer of snow. The warmth was actually so intense that it managed to claim the race of a few riders – one such victim was Netherlands rider Sophie de Boer of Telenet-Fidea. Even though half of the race is shaded by thick woods as the racers weave in and out of the forest, it did not seem to provide any reprieve from the abnormal weather conditions.
In the women’s event, a viscous start undermined what was expected to be an off-road version of a road race due to the intensely dry fast course. Shortly after the gun sounded, a group of five formed at the front. Included in that select group was European Champion Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink), her Netherlands countrymate Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash), Belgian Champion Sanne Cant (BOXX), Czech Pavla Havlikova (Telenet-Fidea) and her Brit teammate Nikki Harris.
Van Paassen and Van den Brand, not content to leave it to a sprint, soon jumped away from the other three. Moments after the two leaders separated themselves, Van den Brand slid her front tire out, leaving Van Paasen to lead the race on her own. It took Van den Brand a full lap before she was able to bridge the gap.
For much of the remainder of the race the Netherlands duo kept together. It wasn’t until the last lap that the two were split apart. Van Paassen attacked her compatriot and built on the gap, finishing a full 10 seconds on Van den Brand by the end.
Behind them, the remaining trio of Harris, Cant and Havlikova rode together to the end with Havlikova winning the sprint for the final podium spot. Harris snagged fourth while Cant finished fifth.
According to Van Paassen, her win was fully planned before the start of the event. “I was glad to see that my race worked out like I had planned in my head. In the last lap I did a bike change and it worked.” When asked to further explain this mysterious bike change, she would not divulge. All she would say was that she made the bike switch for a different tire tread.
Contributing to her win, Van Paasen added, “I changed my off-season preparation this year. Instead of doing so many races, I opted for seven weeks in the mountains. I was in Italy such as Lucca and in the Pyrenees. So, this was a very special win for me since I was curious to see how it would work out.”
Second place Van den Brand had a slightly different take on the race. “Shortly after I caught back up to Sanne [Van Paassen] the hot weather caught up to me and I had goose bumps all over me. It felt like my power drained out of my legs.”
Havlikova was particularly pleased with her finish as it was on this course that she had scored her first podium placing in a World Cup. Until this year, Kalmthout has been a World Cup event, but based on the thick crowds and the stacked competition, it still had the feel of a high profile race.
Unlike Havlikova, Cant was left frustrated and a bit unsure of herself. “I feel like my fitness is there but I lost contact with the front. I hope that it was the weather; it is nothing for me. I don’t feel like I am on my top but I do feel like I am getting better.”
Sixth place rider Belgian Joyce Vanderbeken was both content yet left still wondering where her fitness lies against the European field. Early in the race, she had a bike mechanical and had to chase for the rest of the race. “My start was great. I was immediately in third position and it felt easy for me. But still I won’t know until next week where my fitness level will put me against these women due to my chain mishap.”
American rider Christine Vardaros (BABOCO) quickly found, after a mere 10 pedal strokes, that this race was not going to be a good one. “Such crazy hot weather simply doesn’t agree with me. I had one speed the whole race. If I went above that, my throat would immediately close up. I am a bit bummed because I really love this course and usually it suits my riding well.” She crossed the line in 17th.
Niels Albert proved the best in the heat. © Gregg Germer
Even though the men’s event was contested at 5:30pm, it was still warm enough to spot many riders with bright red faces about to burst like an overripe tomato. Some riders, such as Belgian Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) even opted for jersey and bibs so he could completely unzip his jersey.
Similar to the women’s event, the men’s start was incredibly fast. Belgian Bart Wellens of Telenet-Fidea, fresh off of his impressive race stint in the US, got the holeshot.
For the first seven of 10 laps, around 10 to 12 men formed the lead peloton. The faces in this group were Belgians Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus), Wellens, Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant), Vincent Baestaens (Landbouwkrediet), Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Projob), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Projob) and Frenchman Francis Mourey.
In lap eight, Nys put in a strong attack that completely strung out the field, then snapped it into pieces. The damage was quickly undone though when Nys slipped his front wheel in a dusty tight u-turn. Shortly after that, Albert went to the front and did one better than Nys. He not only strung the riders out once again but he completely broke away to cross the finish line solo.
The rider closest to Albert by the finish was Wellens, who rolled in 13 seconds behind. This was a grand feat according to his father, who announced that Wellens is suffering from jetlag after his trip to the US. Coming in for an impressive third place was Meeusen, who won this event last year when it was a World Cup. Rounding out the top 10 are Mourey, first-year elite Baestaens, Nys, Pauwels, Aernouts, Dieter Vanthourenhout and Belgian Joeri Adams of Telenet-Fidea.
General impressions of the course by the riders was that it was unbelievably fast and uncomfortably warm. Vanthourenout even likened it to a criterium, adding about his personal result, “I was just not good enough to sit in the leading group. But my form should come better with an extra week of training.”
Aernouts commented, “I love it more when it’s 10 degrees [celcius]!” According to Netherlands rider Thijs Al of AA Drink, who placed 11th, the late race start was a blessing. “I took a bottle three times when the race slowed down a bit. It was such hard circumstances with the heat that when I saws riders pushing their limits they were crashing. So I held my rhythm and was really happy with the result. You also can’t ride the tubulars too soft since they fold in the turns here.” Finishing just behind Al in 12th was Mariusz Gil (BABOCO.) Considering he was ill going into this race, he was possibly the only one pleased with the weather, stating that the warmth helped to minimize his symptoms.
On a side note, Klaas Vantornout would have been in with a chance for the podium but an untimely crash in the second-to-last lap claimed his chances. It also claimed a top finish for Aernouts and Nys, who fell on top of him. Theoretically, Vantornout should be stripped of his 13th place since he entered the pit on the penultimate lap for a bottle feed. His mechanic knew enough not to give it to him since the rule is “no water the first two or last two laps”, but he did not know enough to get Vantornout off and on his bike before leaving the pit. But if nobody files a complaint then nothing is done to the rider.
|1||Sanne VAN PAASSEN||NED||42:09:00|
|2||Daphny VAN DEN BRAND||NED||42:19:00|
|8||Ellen VAN LOY||BEL||45:13:00|
|9||Tessa VAN NIEUWPOORT||NED||45:16:00|
|11||Nicole DE BIE – LEYTEN||BEL||46:01:00|
|19||Margriet Helena KLOPPENBURG||DEN||47:53:00|
|27||Caitlyn LA HAYE||BEL|
|14||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||1:04:20|
|17||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||1:05:03|
|20||Egoitz MURGOITIO REKALDE||ESP||1:05:14|
|22||Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN||NED||1:05:14|
|25||Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLE||BEL||1:06:48|
|1||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED||51:30:00|
|7||Micki VAN EMPEL||NED||52:11:00|
|10||David VAN DER POEL||NED||52:22:00|
|14||Corne VAN KESSEL||NED||52:52:00|
|22||Angelo DE CLERCQ||BEL||53:15:00|
|36||Emil Arvid OLSEN||DEN||55:47:00|
|38||Robin VAN DEN BRUEL||BEL||56:34:00|
|39||Valentijn VAN DE VELDE||BEL|
|40||Michel VUELTA IZQUIERDO||ESP|