Once the realm of ice and snow when Kalmthout was part of the World Cup circuit, the early season race now features a fast and dry course, which was so hot last year that some racers succumbed to heat fatigue and others called it “like a criterium.” Forecasts this weekend, however, are calling for morning showers and temperatures in the low 60’s, so look for a few slips and slides, as well.
Last year, it was Niels Albert, the current world champion, who won in a commanding solo finish after counter-attacking a devastating move by Sven Nys. Nys’ surge had broken up what had been a criterium-like group of 12 riders storming around the hot, dry course, but ultimately failed when he took a dusty corner a little too hard and lost control of his front wheel. When Albert attacked, no one else had a response.This year, most of the major players are slated to appear, with the notable exception of Zdenek Stybar, who will have a late start to his season. Wellens, having won here three times previously, he clearly enjoys the course and will be looking to better his second place finish last year. In his way will be Sven Nys, who hopes to add a seventh win in Kalmthout, and Niels Albert, who no doubt wants to start the season representing the world champion jersey with a repeat win. Look too for U23 star Lars van der Haar, starting his first season in the elite ranks at 21 years of age. Last year, van der Haar took the U23 win here after claiming his first stateside win at CrossVegas.
In the women’s race, it was 2012 CrossVegas winner Sanne van Paassen who came out on top after dueling with the now-retired Daphny van de Brand. The race started hard, with five riders quickly forming a group off the front. It wasn’t long, however, before the two compatriots decided to improve the odds and take off on their own. A crash by van de Brand cost the European Champion precious energy, and she had no answer when van Paassen turned on the after-burners.
Though Kalmthout is the largest Euro race this weekend, it isn’t the only. Slovakia will host two days of C2 racing with the International Cyclocross Marikovsk Dolina and International Cyclocross Finance Centrum, and Switzerland will be hoping to attract racers with its C2 race, the Radcross Illnau.
Be sure to check back in for a full report and photos!