by Dan Seaton

Bredene, Belgium – Dieter Vanthourenhout took the first Belgian victory of his professional career Wednesday at the Sylvestercyclocross. In mild, drizzly weather, the 24 year old teammate of Niels Albert took the sprint over a group of four that included Niels Albert, Zdeněk Štybar, and Martin Zlamalik.

With a densely packed holiday schedule taking its toll, many top names opted to skip the small race in this coastal town, saving up for three straight days of racing that begin with the GVA Trofee’s GP Sven Nys in Ball on Friday. So perhaps it was no surprise that the four elite riders emerged at the front, well clear of any challengers, after just two laps.

But Albert rode into the course tape with two to go, hitting a post and going over the bars before hopping up and charging back from a 20 second gap to reconnect with the leaders, towing Zlamalik back in as well.  Albert’s efforts, however were not on his own behalf. On the final straight, Albert set up teammate Vanthourenhout with a significant gap, which he rode to victory, crossing the line a second ahead of Zlamalik.

After the race, Albert said that, except for the crash, the two BKCP-Powerplus riders had raced according to plan. “I told Dieter beforehand that I would help him if the opportunity arose. Today it did. I wasn’t much of a factor, since I rode into a post and went over the bars, but I was able to reconnect. In the final meters I made a little gap and then fell back so Dieter could easily win.”

Vanthourenhout said he was thrilled with the first victory of his professional career in his home country. “At the end I had the full support of Niels Albert and did it in the sprint,” he said afterwards. “I was at the front from the start, but still, in Loenhout yesterday I might have dug too deep. Nonetheless, I managed to win eventually.”

The race also marked the return of Tom Vanoppen to the highest level of Belgian ‘cross. Vanoppen retired in 2008 after a series of breakdowns in his pro contracts. But he decided to return to cycling this fall, competing in several smaller races in October and November.  Unfortunately, Vanoppen’s race was marred by a fall into a chilly pool of water early in the race. Before that he rode as high as seventh place, but finished 25th, complaining of hypothermia.

Brief Results

1. Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel)
2. Martin Zlamalik (Cze)
3. Niels Albert (Bel)
4. Zdeněk Štybar (Cze)
5. José Hermida Ramos (Spa)
6. Ben Berden (Bel)
7. Geert Wellens (Bel)
8. Ruiz Da Larrinada (Spa)
9. Marco Ponta (Ita)
10. Jan Van Dael (Bel)