A bulldozer flattened the ruts but it still made for tricky descents

A bulldozer flattened the ruts but it still made for tricky descents on Day 1

by Christine Vardaros

Today was the first of two days of racing where we saw the Juniors go off at 11am and the U23s at 2pm. Between the races, the Elite men and women gave the course one last look. All took place in front of many thousands of crazed fans, mainly Belgian, lining the course three-deep in places. And our very own Richard Fries MC’d the event, taking it all up a few notches! He was on fire today!

In the Junior event, it was a French sweep – 2nd and 3rd places going to twin brothers Fabien and Loic Doubey. What I found most fascinating about the race was Loic’s self-sacrifice on the last lap where he gave second place to his brother. Loic was also the only one of the three Frenchies on the podium to mention the other two National teammates who did not make the podium, but nevertheless were part of the team effort and deserved credit for the team’s success.

As for the Americans, Drew Dillman crossed the line as first American. At only 16 years old, that was an impressive feat. Even more impressive is that he was 21st, a mere three minutes behind the best in the world. US National Champ Jeff Bahnson followed shortly behind in 25th and Björn Fox had a bit of an off day after crashing two times early in the race. Not wanting to hit the ground again, he rode a bit more cautiously, something that cost him many spots on a world race where you have to take a zillion risks to win big.

Going into the Junior race, many Belgians in the press room knew the chances were slim that one of their riders would land in the top spot but that a few of these riders were perfectly capable of it if they had a perfect day. Unfortunately for the Belgians it didn’t happen. Laurens Sweeck was Belgium’s best finisher at fifth. Next up in sixth was countrymate Michael Vanthourenhout (my teammate, which made me especially happy.) He excels on the fast courses so today was a course for him, in his very first World Championships.

As for the today’s 2011 U23 world championship race, Belgian Coach Rudy de Bie had high hopes for a win but was pleased nonetheless for the showing of his boys. He said that to have five riders in the top 12 for most of the race was nice to see – although the prizes are only given at the finish. Their top rider was Niels Albert’s BKCP-Powerplus teammate Witse Bosmans, who crossed the line in sixth after timing his big attack on the field a bit too early in the last lap.

Summerhill in a chase group at the barriers.

Summerhill in a chase group at the barriers.

The Americans did us proud, I must say! Even with a flat tire, Danny Summerhill got 13th! He was very pleased with his performance and especially his stress-free approach to the race that he felt was the key to his success. It was the first time he entered a World Championship since earning his silver back in 2007 (in the Junior category) without letting the stress ruin his race before he even arrived at the start line. His unintentional pre-race routine of the previous three years was to use up all his energy on pre-race jitters. Glad he stopped doing that!

Zach McDonald was also pleased with his 23rd in his forth World Championships. Cody Kaiser crossed the line in 36th with Jerome Townsend behind in 39th.

In between the two races, the big boys and girls came out to play. Faces on the course included Spanish MTB superstar Hermida, the Dutch team, Mourey, the USA Cannondale p/b crew, and Hanka Kupfernagel. Yesterday in the press room there was a rumor that Kupfernagel was not racing, which turned out to be just a case of mistaken identity when a Belgian reporter said the name “Hanka” when he meant to say “Daphny” when talking about the big name not expected to take the start. Daphny van den Brand is still trying to get over severe bronchitis.

Niels Albert was also in attendance. When I got a few words with him in his mobile home, he told me he thinks the course is one for him because it’s very fast but also a little bit muddy. He added, “But the Worlds is always a little bit special; one you can run in your head one million possible outcomes but it’s the one million and first [outcome] that happens.” And what about his heavy legs in Hoogerheide? Albert responded, “This week I had a little bit easier week of training. I think the condition must be good tomorrow – it’s gonna be fine.” The last thought on my mind was all the talk about Belgian teamwork. What he had to say about it was, “In the first part of the race, all the Belgian riders must go for it. Then normally in the last round there will be Stybar and maybe Mourey with two Belgian guys. Then we must do teamwork. Like if Sven [Nys] and I are in the front and I feel I am not good enough to win, then I’m gonna help him win. But first I want to try to win by myself.”

Another top rider checking out the course was Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn, teammate of Daphny van den Brand. Regarding the course conditions, Hormes-Ravenstijn said, “They worked on the course so it’s better today. It’s easier to ride. Now you can focus on just riding instead of looking to where it’s safe. I hope it will be the same tomorrow morning, but we ride at 11 in the morning. Hopefully the sun will shine and turn the top layer again into mud.”

The Belgian tent is where the party was.

The Belgian tent was where the party was.

A few hours after the last event concluded, the sounds emanating from the Belgian tent took over the venue. As you got closer to the big red and white construction, you could hear the Belgian music playing while at least a few hundreds partygoers sang along – off-tune and at the top of their very “happy” lungs.

Tomorrow is the grand finale – women at 11am and men at 2. Stay tuned to Cyclocross Magazine’s site for all the latest news and updates of the race as well as your favorite American racers.

And be sure to subscribe to Cyclocross Magazine right away so you’re sure to receive your copy of the upcoming Worlds issue, which will have in-depth coverage from several unique angles. By the way, many Belgians are asking what the F in Katie’s “KFC” initials stands for…

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