With the race falling during the holidays each year, Azencross in Loenhout is one part cyclocross race, one part party.
Not surprisingly, the venue's famed rollers make for a popular spectating spot — and great visual media fodder — even if they do not really affect the outcomes of the races.
Another aspect of the Azencross course is the small drainage ditches that are deceptively hard to get over. Wonder why riders were dismounting to enter the pits? These small ditches are why.
Thanks to the weather, the circuit at Azencross was a bit of a tale of two courses. The first half soaked up pre-race rains and became a giant mud pit.
While the second half was a bit drier and a bit more rollier. (Rollier is totally a word, right?)
The racing produced two familiar winners. Sanne Cant (Beobank-Corendon) followed a Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) attack in the slop in the second lap and then escaped the field with another attack the next lap. She took a page out of teammate Mathieu van der Poel's book and went solo for the second half of the race to capture her 101st career win.
Brand and Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek/Knight Composites) engaged in a battle for the second podium spot. Brand ultimately got the upper hand by winning the finishing sprint.
In the Men's race, Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) borrowed a page from Cant's new playbook by going solo midway through the race. Van der Poel used his trademark blistering attack in the fourth lap to escape the field. The win was his 20th of the season.
Photographer Bart Hazen has been working as hard as the racers during the Kerstperiode. He again provided a gallery of images from the Elite races on Thursday. Enjoy this look at the Azencross racing from him.