by Hannah Caproon

The 2016 Soudal Classics series stop in Hasselt maintained its tradition of circumnavigating the pond Kapermolenpark, with tight turns, a sprinkling of typically nearly unrideable run-ups, and long power sections. However, the construction of a new swimming pool at the park meant that the first section of the course received an overhaul. New turns, a longer sandpit, and a run-up just 200 meters from the finish line caused some to speculate that this year might end the chances of victory of course favorite Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games) and Corne Van Kessel (Telenet Fidea Lions).

The new Soudal Classics Hasselt course map:


Sweeck Recovers from Crash, Escapes to Hasselt Victor

The dominant duo of Belgian World Champ Wout van Aert and Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel opted to pass on Hasselt, in favor of racing at The Koksijde World Cup tomorrow. After a particularly hard crash, Kevin Pauwels, who has been top three at Hasselt several times in years past, abandoned the race, leaving him wanting for his first victory of the season.

A lead group of approximately 15 riders was able to stay together on the early laps, despite a series of 180-degree corners followed by power-driven straightaways, and several fumbles in the rapidly drying mud pits. Clement Venturini (Cofidis) set the pace for several laps, with Laurens Sweeck (ERA Circus), Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Napoleon Games), and Corne Van Kessel quick on his heels. These four traded spots for several laps, eventually putting a small gap on the pack riders. The course design lended itself to passing aggressively in the tight corners.

Van Kessel managed to break away from the group, riding smoothly and increasing speed while appearing to soft-pedal, though his rear wheel skipped noticeably through all corners, showing his blazing speed. He easily hopped the barriers, which were set squarely in the middle of a peanut butter-mud pit, while the other leaders dismounted.

Sweeck, who had shot off the front of the chase group, caught onto Van Kessel’s wheel, but also dragged Clement Venturini with him. In the barriers, Sweeck, looking tired and sloppy in corners, fumbled his second bunnyhop and fell, giving Van Kessel an opportunity to reopen his advantage of seven seconds over the group for laps five through seven.

The course dried a noticeable amount throughout the race, with squishy mud pits turning to solid wheel troughs and previously rideable corners appeared to give riders trouble. Given the conditions, this course was all about power. During the first and second lap, riders were staying in the saddle, but by lap five, most were out of the saddle coming out of corners and on the short pavement sections. Despite relatively clear course conditions, several mid-pack riders suffered mechanicals on the final two laps.

In lap eight, Van Kessel lost speed and almost came to a stop at the top of the second of the mid-course run-ups, and what seemed to be a certain victory suddenly was in doubt. Sweeck took advantage, seizing the chance to bridge the gap and grab second wheel.

Sweeck took the lead after a bunch up near the pond, in a corner where, later in the race, he put a sizeable gap on others. Taking the shot was a wise move for Sweeck, as it gave him a lead that he did not rescind. Now at the front of the race, Sweeck’s body language changed. He rode over the front, pedaling much more from his hips and coughing through the last lap, clinching his second win of the season.

Sweeck, once out front, did not slow until seconds before the line, despite an insurmountable lead of over 30 seconds. The 180 uphill corner near the pond was one that most racers opted to ride, but Sweeck’s technique involved dismounting, grabbing the fenceline post, and whipping his bike around at a speed the pulled him through the corner.

Venturini finished with a clear advantage over Van Kessel, crossing the line nearly 15 seconds ahead of who had appeared to be the runaway winner of the day for most of the race. The remaining top 10 finishers were spread out, with 5 to 10 seconds between them.

Stephen Hyde, donning a handsome white Pan American Championship skinsuit, fell just outside of the top 10 after launching an aggressive attack on the leading group midway through the race.

Cant Cruises in Koksijde Opener

While many of the top-ranked racers opted to rest their legs for Sunday’s World Cup in Koksijde, Sanne Cant (IKO Enertherm-Beobank) seized the opportunity to hoard Soudal Classics and UCI C1 points and do her openers in front of fans in Hasselt.

The Belgian National Champion had her hands full with fellow Belgian Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions), who resumed her fast starts with another holeshot. Cant wasted no time in attempting to set off on a solo ride, but Van Loy was determined, staying attached to Cant until one final attack proved to be too much, and Cant was off on her own.

Behind, the race for third looked to be locked up by Christine Majerus, until a broken saddle gave American Elle Anderson (Elle Anderson Racing) the chance for an impressive UCI C1 podium.

Jolien Verschueren (Telenet Fidea Lions), who has been on a tear recently with strong podium rides, crashed on a descent and finished 10th.

2016 Soudal Classics Hasselt UCI C1 Cyclocross Results - Elite Women

1Sanne CantIKO Enertherm-Beobank
2Ellen Van LoyTelenet Fidea Lions
3Elle AndersonElle Anderson Racing / Velocio / SRAM
4Christine MajerusBoels-Dolmans
5Joyce VanderbekenAA Drink-Kalas
6Githa Michiels
7Monique Van De Ree
8Veerle Goossens
9Linda Ter Beek
10Jolien VerschuerenTelenet Fidea Lions
11Loes SelsTelenet Fidea Lions
12Esther Van Der Burg
13Axelle BellaertAA Drink-Kalas
14Shana MaesAA Drink-Kalas
15Kim Van De Steene
16Eva Maria PalmAA Drink-Kalas
17Marthe Truyen
18Floor Weerink
19Meg De Bruyne
20Jinse Peeters
21Sophie Thackray

2016 Soudal Classics Hasselt UCI C1 Cyclocross Results - Elite Men

1Laurens SweeckERA-Circus
2Clément VenturiniCofidis
3Corne Van KesselTelenet Fidea Lions
4Vincent BaestaensBeobank-Corendon
5Wietse BosmansBeobank-Corendon
6Tim MerlierCrelan-Vastgoedservice
7Philipp WalslebenBeobank-Corendon
8Quinten HermansTelenet Fidea Lions
9Marcel MeisenTeam Kuota Lotto
10Gianni VermeerschTeam Steylaerts
11Michael VanthourenhoutMarlux-Napoleon Games
12Stephen HydeCannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld
13Rob PeetersCrelan-Vastgoedservice
14Stan GodrieRabobank Development Team
15Felipe Orts
16Klaas VantornoutMarlux-Napoleon Games
17Braam Merlier
18Julien TaramarcazERA-Circus
19Dieter VanthourenhoutMarlux-Napoleon Games
20Joeri AdamsKalas-NNOF
21Jens VandekinderenKalas-NNOF
22Gert Smets
23Stijn CaluweBeobank-Corendon
24Viktor Vandebosch
25Loïc Hennaux
26Senne De Meyer
27Roel Van Der Stegen