by Dan Seaton
Eernegem, Belgium – September 26, 2009. On a golden early autumn day in Eernegem, Niels Albert stretched his win streak to take his third victory in as many weeks, riding solo to the finish of the Vlaamse Houtlandcross. But the end of the race was marred by an ugly crash when Dieter Vanthourenhout, sprinting for second place with his cousin, Sven Vanthourenhout, came too close to the course barriers and was catapulted face-first into the officials’ stage, just meters short of the finish line. (Dieter) Vanthourenhout lay motionless on the left side of the course for several minutes, surrounded by a crowd including his brother Michael, his cousin, race officials, medical personnel, and photographers, before slowly climbing to his feet and making his way from the course to a round of applause from the crowd.
The warm and dry weather made for hard and fast conditions, except on the course’s far northern end, where a day of racing wore down the sandy terrain and left riders to battle through ankle-deep dust on an already technical series of steep climbs and tight off-camber descents. Though a number of racers expressed their displeasure with the second week of unusually balmy conditions in Belgium, for the throngs of spectators who lined the course, the warm weather was a welcome change from past editions of the race, which made a jump from November to the early part of the season this year.
Crowd favorite and Belgian National Champion Sven Nys, who finished a distant ninth last week in Neerpelt, attacked straight from the gun with World Champion Albert hot on his wheel. The two were quickly joined by Klaas Vantornout and Dieter Vanthourenhout, who could only hold the pace for a few laps before being dropped by the leading duo. Nys and Albert traded attacks throughout the first half of the race, while Kevin Pauwels and Sven Vanthourenhout eventually managed to join the chase, and briefly it appeared that the chasers might rejoin the lead to make a group of six.
But the chase group fractured and only Dieter Vanthourenhout managed to reach the two leaders, catching them as they approached the stairs at the south end of the course. His moment was short lived, however, and Nys and Albert once again separated themselves from the bunch with four laps to go. When Nys punctured a few minutes later, Albert took advantage and launched the decisive attack, riding solo for the remaining few laps. After a bike change, Nys rejoined the chase with Pauwels and the cousins Vanthourenhout, but couldn’t match the two Vanthourenhouts when they attacked with two laps to go.
The pair worked together to bring back Albert, but his early season form was too good, and their efforts fell short. Nys benefitted from the confusion that followed Dieter Vanthourenhout’s crash, edging Pauwels for third as officials waved racers clear of the injured rider. Klaas Vantournout rounded out the top five, rolling solo across the line some 90 seconds back from Albert.
Afterwards Albert complained to reporters that the officials had forbidden hand-ups. “The worst was that with these temperatures, we couldn’t accept drinks,” he said. “It was scandalous! It was more than 20 degrees (68 °F) here. We had to swallow kilos of dust!”
For his part, Nys said he was happy with his race. “I felt 30 percent better than last week,” he said. “So little by little, everything is coming together.”
Sven Vanthourenhout told reporters he had not deliberately tried to cut his cousin off. “I certainly didn’t depart from my line,” he said. “I turned onto the final straight and looked to my right, where I expected Dieter since there was no room on the left. Suddenly I heard the crack and when I looked back he was lying on the ground.”
Earlier in the day Gianni Vermeersch rode to a dominating solo victory in the Juniors race, crossing the line nearly 40 seconds ahead of Jesper Baelen, who finished second. Michael Vanthourenhout, took third.
1. Niels Albert Bkcp-powerplus 55:44
2. Sven Vanthourenhout Sunweb Pro Job 00:10
3. Sven Nys Landbouwkrediet – Tˆnissteiner 00:28
4. Kevin Pauwels Fidea Cycling Team st.
5. Klaas Vantornout Sunweb Pro Job 01:30
6. Vincent Baestaens Fidea Cycling Team 02:05
7. Tom Meeusen Fidea Cycling Team st.
8. Jan Soetens Revor-jartazi 02:09
9. Jan Denuwelaere Rendementhypo Cyclingteam 03:08
10. Kenneth Van Compernolle Sunweb Pro Job 03:50
11. Quentin Bertholet Fidea Cycling Team 04:28
12. Bjˆrn Rondelez 04:47
13. Gianni Denolf Bkcp-powerplus 04:55
14. Matthias Bossuyt 05:15
15. Vinnie Braet 05:55
16. Erki Putsep Cycling Club Bourgas @ 1 Lap
17. Dimitri Stevens
18. Laudelino Lammens Rendementhypo Cyclingteam
19. Steven De Schoesitter
20. Wim Allary
21. Piet Casteleyn
22. Olivier Vernaet
23. Dries Cauwelier
24. Jo Naert