In Saturday's World Cup, Gianni Vermeersch (Creafin - Fristads) was in the lead group midway through the race, but when Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) rode the section that was a run-up for most other riders, he was unable to keep up with them on foot.
Vermeersch went on to finish fourth on Saturday, but he entered Sunday's C1 race at Jingle Cross looking for a bit of redemption. To get it, he would have to defeat a large group of Aerts' Telenet Baloise Lion teammates.
Similar to Aerts' Saturday situation facing down a group of Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal riders, Vermeersch faced down a gaggle of yellow-and-black-clad Telenet riders that included Jim Aernouts (Telenet Baloise Lions), Thijs Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Nicolas Cleppe (Telenet Baloise Lions) along with ringer Vincent Baestaens (Group Hens - Maes Containers).
Vermeersch's efforts were, however, a bit more fruitful than Aerts'.
On a hot, muggy close to the Jingle Cross weekend, Vermeersch attacked up the climb of the backside of Mt. Krumpit in Lap 6. His initial move quickly became a 10-second gap, and from there the Belgian was gone to a win, a haul of C1 points and a little redemption after finishing just off the podium in the World Cup.
"I knew from yesterday the long climb up Mt. Krumpit on the bike was the best part of the race for me," Vermeersch said. "I made my move and it went well."
The Lions Roar Early
There is little question Saturday's Jingle Cross World Cup was a letdown for the Telenet Baloise Lions team. Hoping to make a good impression for new title sponsor Baloise, only Toon Aerts was able to make an early break of six, and Aerts' efforts to drop Eli Iserbyt's teammates left him gassed at the end of the race.
Also looking to bounce back from Saturday's race was the Rochester C1 winner Vincent Baestaens. "The heat was really high today. Yesterday I learned some lessons and tried to cool down before the race today. I used ice packs and everything," he said. "Yesterday I didn't do that and blew up immediately at the start. I tried to make up something today."
On Sunday, the team controlled things early, with Corne van Kessel (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Jim Aernouts helping control the front up the Mt. Krumpit run-up and ensuing descent into the damp sandpit.
The Lions' early aggression created a split at the front, with eight riders lining up as the train entered the technical off-camber section for the second time.
The tricky two-tiered off-camber section formerly called the "Holly Jolly Hellhole" by event organizers created a split at the front, with Gianni Vermeersch, Aernouts and Cleppe in the first group and Vincent Baestaens, Thijs Aerts and Gage Hecht (Donnelly / Aevolo) in the second. When the riders descended off Mt. Krumpit for the first time, the lead group had a good 8 seconds on the chasers.
On the big climb up Mt. Krumpit, Hecht fell off the pace, while Aerts and Baestaens bridged up to the lead trio, making it a group of five at the front. Hecht, however, was riding strong on the muggy afternoon, and he bridged up and again made contact with the leaders at the Mt. Krumpit climb in Lap 3.
Early on in the race, the Telenet Baloise team worked well together to keep the pressure on their interlopers Baestaens and Vermeersch. On the big climb up Mt. Krumpit, Aerts attacked and went solo off the front. His advantage held until early in Lap 4, but then he soon paid the price for his effort and fell off the pace in the latter half of Lap 4.
Temporary Teammates Roar Back
Faced with a sandwich of Telenet Baloise riders, Vermeersch and Baestaens decided to form a mid-race pact with one another to try to get their best possible results. In Lap 5, Baestaens put some pressure on with an attack that ultimately broke Aerts off the group for good.
"We were with three or four guys from Telenet, and I told Vincent that if he was going to attack, I wouldn't go ride after him, and then he did the same," Vermeersch said. "We had to do it like that, or otherwise it would be the same as yesterday with the guys from Vastgoed."
At the end of the lap, the lead group was down to the two informal teammates and two Lions. Much more manageable for the riders not wearing black and yellow.
Although Vermeersch got aced on the Mt. Krumpit run-up turned ride-up on Saturday, the Belgian was still feeling strong on the climbs up the steep hill at the Johnson Country Fairgrounds, especially on Sunday.
In the sixth of nine laps, Vermeersch was ready to make his big move. He exploded up the long, winding climb to the top of Mt. Krumpit, passing Aernouts and leaving the rest of the riders on their heels. Once in the lead, Vermeersch stayed on the move and his advantage quickly swelled up to nearly 20 seconds.
"I was in a little bit of a sandwich with the guys from Telenet Baloise," Vermeersch said. "Jim made an effort, and I had to follow. I had the honor of having Tom Meeusen here in the pits for me, and he yelled at me that I had to go because he saw the other riders were blocked."
The rest of the way Vermeersch held off the heat and kept his competitors well behind to take the win and score a bit of redemption after he missed out on the World Cup podium by the narrowest of margins.
"At the places I could make some time, I went full gas and then the places where I could recover I tried to slow down a little bit so I could make it through the rest of the race," Vermeersch said about closing his race on the humid afternoon.
Vermeersch's informal teammate Baestaens broke free from Aernouts at the end of the race to capture a second-place finish to go with his C1 win last Saturday in Rochester.
"It's a C1 race, so you need to be on the top of your level for the points. After Gianni was gone, I did everything I could to get second, and it turned out really good," Baestaens said.
Aernouts rounded out the podium in third.
Hecht rode solo for the second half of the race and came home with a strong sixth-place finish.
For more from the race, see the photo gallery and results below.