Cyclo-Cross Belgian Style: Paul Burgoine takes a look

Paul Burgoine visits one of Belgium’s most famous cyclo-cross races and interviews Marianne Vos and Sven Nys

Bleak, cold, yet beautiful Belgium; that’s the setting for one of Belgium’s most famous World Cup Cyclo-Cross races, held on the sand dunes in the coastal town of Koksijde. The course is on a military base that looks almost derelict, so derelict it’s hard to tell if it’s still in use or not.

Note: Thomas van Bracht photos of the race can be seen by clicking here

Spectators are shipped into the race area by old army buses in a slick military style operation that makes the movement of a large amount of people look like a simple job. It’s hard to explain these races to people who are not interested in Cyclo-Cross, but one thing’s for sure…They are HUGE.

Each of the top racers have very loyal and committed fan clubs that come clad in stylised body warmers, hats, gloves, and even umbrellas.

The weather was pretty dull and bleak with a biting wind blowing in off the North Sea; the driver that ferried me from the press centre to the start area seemed a touch disappointed that the weather had stayed dry. “Maybe it will rain later, I hope”, he said with a glimpse of anticipation.

He didn’t have to wait too long before the squally showers arrived, just in time for the under 23s race. That race was dominated from start to finish by the team from the Netherlands and they finished with the top five riders with the winner being Gert-Jan Bosman.

The Women’s race set off at a furious pace with Daphny Van Den brand, (AA Drink) and Marianne Vos, (Nederland Bloeit) sprinting to the first bend and opening up a gap over Katherine Compton ( Rabobank). Vos made a small mistake on the first sandy hill which gave Van Den Brand the upper hand, and a lead that she didn’t relinquish for the entire race.

She went on to win by a clear margin from Vos, with Compton in a comfortable third. Britain’s Helen Wyman, (Kona Factory Racing) and Nikki Harris, (Telenet-Fidea) were fifth and sixth respectively. Congratulations to Hannah Payton who completed her first senior race in good style.

Marianne Vos interview:
Even though she came in at second place, it’s a result that’s easily overshadowed by the fact that she currently holds the title of World Cyclo-Cross Champion.

During the interview, she was keen to elaborate on her preparation for the World Championships and how she hopes to hold onto her title: “I wanted to do a few races before I went to South Africa, so that I could get the feeling and the rhythm of the races.”

“I hope that when I get back from South Africa, I feel more at ease with the races and more comfortable. It’s only a month, and I’ve got some more time. I know what I need to do for these races. It’s important to do this before the Worlds, to do the technical training I need.”

She wasn’t annoyed about her second place finish, stating: “I had a pretty good start, but I made a mistake. I was pretty happy with today. It was really hard and I made a few mistakes, but I think everybody does. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to expect, and I hoped to stay close”.

“Even if I were fifth or sixth it would have been fine.”

When I asked Vos about how she felt after her break following injury, she elaborated on the effect it had on her training and her psych: “I had a month off without the bike, and at the beginning of November, I started again with my training. Most important was getting the basic training and long distance training. For now, 40 minutes of high intensity training is pretty hard. I train pretty well, but it’s so hard to have a heartbeat of 180 over 40 minutes.”

Vos has many different races lined up for the coming weeks and months leading up to the World Championships.

Men’s Race
The men’s Elite Race was the show piece event, and for the sceptics out there who think these races are just a procession; well think again!

After the initial mass sprint to get to the first hill, the riders thinned out, and for the best part of the race there were five men in the lead group: Sven Nys, (Landboukrediet) Kevin Pauwels, (Sunweb-Revoir) Bart Aernouts, (Rabobank) Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea).

All five men were working well together, with Stybar and Pauwels doing a lot of the early pace setting but they were finding it difficult to distance the other three. It wasn’t until there were three laps remaining that the decisive break was made. Nys and Pauwels broke away from the bunch with only the tough Aenouts being able to keep them within sight; comfortably clear of Stybar and Meeusen.

With two ‘Rondes’ to go, Nys put in a powerful attack and distanced Pauwels for a time, only to allow him back in with a mistake in the sand. The pair glanced at each other as if were both happy to sprint it out in the home straight. When entering the finishing straight, both riders tracked over to the fall side, tight up against the boards, as they reached the 25m mark Pauwels held up his arms in celebration.

At first I thought he had misjudged the winning line and celebrated prematually, but then it became apparent that he felt Nys had impeded him in the sprint and blocked him. On my evidence, it seemed that Nys came around him and there was no gap for Pauwels to go through. Whatever had happened, when Nys crossed the line it was booing rather than applause that could be heard. Nys fans had regrouped a bit for the presentation and tried to make more noise than the booing Pauwels fans.

Interview with Sven Nys:
In a post-race interview, Sven Nys seemed fairly neutral about the outcome of the race, saying that he was “quite happy” about it. Overall, he felt as if he had the upper hand during the race, stating that: “Two laps before the end, I had a gap with Kevin. I felt that I could win at that moment in the race, but I didn’t.”

“I made a big mistake in the sand, and then he caught up with me and you knew there was going to be a sprint. I felt strong, and it was a good test for the World Championships.”

The somewhat controversial sprint at the end of the race added an exciting twist for spectators and the riders alike. Nys offered a firsthand opinion on how the race unfolded: “Of course I knew he was in the sprint. When I looked back in the corner I saw that he wasn’t on my back wheel.” Nys was adamant that he made no mistake: “I decided what line I was going to take, and I don’t think that I made a mistake”.

Note: Thomas van Bracht photos of the race can be seen by clicking here

1. Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned) 0:43:13
2. Marianne Vos (Ned)      0:00:13
3. Katherine Compton (USA)     0:00:31
4. Sanne Van Paassen (Ned) 0:01:07
5. Sanne Cant (Bel) 0:01:34
6. Helen Wyman (GBr) 0:01:44
7. Nikki Harris (GBr):01:57
8. Sophie De Boer (Ned) 0:02:06
9. Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (Fra)     0:02:31
10. Gabriella Day (GBr) 0:02:48

@ 2 laps
Hannah Payton (GBr)

1. Sven Nys (Bel)     1:03:18
2. Kevin Pauwels (Bel)     0:00:01
3. Bart Aernouts (Bel)     0:00:06
4. Zdenek Stybar (Cze)     0:00:45
5. Tom Meeusen (Bel)     0:00:51
6. Klaas Vantornout (Bel)     0:00:57
7. Francis Mourey (Fra)     0:01:08
8. Bart Wellens (Bel)     0:01:32
9. Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel)     0:02:00
10. nicolas Bazin (Fra)     0:02:34

22. Ian Field (GBr) Hargroves Cycles 0:04:39

1. Gert-Jan Bosman (Ned)
2. Stan Godrie (Ned)     @05
3. Micki Van Empel (Ned) @07

47. Steven James (GBr)  @6:00

@ 1 lap
56. Jack Clarkson (GBr)

@ 2 laps
60. Luke Gray (GBr)

@ 3 laps
64. Andrew Hargroves (GBr)

Interviews from VeloUK

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