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2003 World Cyclocross Championships - CM

Monopoli, Italy, February 1-2, 2003

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February 2 - Elite Men: 60 Minutes

Godverdomme! Bartje comes good: Wellens rides to World Championship win in Monopoli

By Tim Maloney / Cyclingnews European Editor

Belgium's best
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

It was a cold windy day reminiscent of Belgium in Monopoli, Italy where thousands of Belgian fans who had traveled over 2,000km to southern Italy saw their 24 year old countryman Bart Wellens ride to a decisive victory in the Elite World Cyclo-cross Championships. The Belgian team put in an overwhelmingly dominant performance, with the first five places filled by the dream team boys.

The best boy was Wellens, who told Cyclingnews that "I had a good start today and felt great, then I flatted when I was in the lead. I came back to the front riders so easily that I knew I was the strongest rider today." After his son's win, Wellens' proud dad told Belgian TV that "He wasn't lucky in the beginning of the race, but came back great. Bart has been strong during the whole season. He lives for the sport. He didn't win the most, but he has the most important one now."

With Wellens' win over the almost 37 year old Mario De Clercq, last year's cross World Champion, it's a passing of the torch from one generation of Belgian cyclo-cross greats to the next. Runner-up De Clercq concurred with Wellens comments and realized it just wasn't his day today in Monopoli. "Bart was the strongest today. After his flat he came back very strong. I had problems in the first lap with the bike, but I couldn't win today. But I'm glad with my 6th time on the podium." Post-race, De Clercq dashed rumours of his impending retirement, saying "I'm still feeling good and I'm competitive, so I don't plan to retire..." Third place Belgian, Erwin Vervecken, also bowed to Wellens, saying "I'm happy with the bronze medal. Bart was the best one today."

Former Belgian coach Eric de Vlaminck joined the anvil chorus for Wellens, explaining that "The young Belgian riders had gained a year of maturity and you could see that today. Bart rode very well and he even said before the race that he should win. Wellens was clearly the strongest rider today." After a clean start, the Belgian team just rode away from everyone else, with Wellens quickly surging to a 10" lead after the first of 9 laps, just ahead of his five teammates. Wellens led Nys, Vervecken, Berden and De Clercq, who fought his way back up front after a mechanical. Half a minute behind after three laps, Italian Daniele Pontoni led the first chase group behind the Belgians.

Suddenly Nys and Vervecken were out front with five laps to race. Wellens had a front flat that put him behind, but after a half-lap chase, Bartje had joined back and there were five Belgians up front once more. Wellens upped the pace again and gapped the rest of the Belgians for good. Sven Nys was chasing behind with De Clercq on his wheel, but as his supporters screamed "hoop-hoop Sven", the classy Rabobank rider shook his head to show he was having was a bad day.

Over the last four laps, the status-quo was set; Wellens was on cruise control half a minute ahead of the desperately chasing De Clercq, while Nys faded and was passed by the fast-finishing Vervecken. Daniele Pontoni led a heroic chase, but with five Belgians up the road, the diminutive Italian wasn't getting any closer to the podium. To the loud acclimation of the Belgian fans, Wellens won solo, 38" ahead of the disappointed De Clercq, with Wellens' lanky Spaar Select teammate Vervecken 1'20" behind, 8" ahead of Berden and Nys.

The revelation of the day was first year elite Francis Mourey from Mulhouse, France, who had a tremendous race to out sprint Pontoni for 6th. The top Dutch rider in Monopoli was Gerben De Kneght, who had tangled with Pontoni in a crash and dropped back to 14th, while Richard Groenendaal had a lousy day to finish 17th. "I was good last Saturday, but since then, I have not been feeling good," said Groenendaal

Brits and Americans certainly had a less successful day in Monopoli than the Belgian Dream Team, but both had respectable performances. The top UK rider was Roger Hammond in 23rd, while #1 American was Mark Gullickson. "It was a tough race for me", Gullickson explained to Cyclingnews. "I haven't raced since the US nationals and it's tough to prepare in Colorado for this. I thought it would be a faster course, but it ended up muddy. I'm satisfied with my race."

Gullickson progressed through the field all during the race, but a front flat in the penultimate lap may have cost him a shot at the top 20. Less satisfied was US National Cyclo-cross Champion Jonathan Page. After a solid season where the American progressed up the elite 'cross ladder in Europe, Monopoli was a major disappointment for Page. "I just didn't feel great today from the start", he told Cyclingnews. "In the first corner, some monster Czech guy hit my bars and that slowed me down." Gullickson and Page were the only USA finishers, as Huseby, Jacques-Maynes and Stewart were all DNF.

Next year's World Cyclo-cross Championships will take place January 31-February 1, 2004, in Pont-Chateau, France near Nantes.

Results

1 Bart Wellens (Bel)                   56.43
2 Mario De Clercq (Bel)                 0.38
3 Erwin Vervecken (Bel)                 1.20
4 Ben Berden (Bel)                      1.28
5 Sven Nijs (Bel)                   
6 Francis Mourey (Fra)                  2.07
7 Daniele Pontoni (Ita)             
8 Tom Vannoppen (Bel)                   2.24
9 Jiri Pospisil (Cze)                   2.26
10 Arnaud Labbe (Fra)               
11 Dariusz Gil (Pol)                    2.35
12 Petr Dlask (Cze)                     2.39
13 David Seco Amundarain (Spa)          2.44
14 Gerben De Knegt (Ned)                2.49
15 Maarten Nijland (Ned)                2.56
16 Alessandro Fontana (Ita)             3.12
17 Richard Groenendaal (Ned)            3.14
18 Dominique Arnould (Fra)              3.19
19 Luca Bramati (Ita)                   3.33
20 Christian Heule (Swi)                3.35
21 David Derepas (Fra)                  3.36
22 Tadeusz Korzeniewski (Pol)           4.01
23 Roger Hammond (GBr)                  4.13
24 Tomas Trunschka (Cze)                4.19
25 Marc Gullickson (USA)                4.34
26 Michael Baumgartner (Swi)            4.41
27 David Rusch (Swi)                    4.51
28 Ales Mudroch (Cze)                   4.54
29 Radek Tichy (Cze)                   
30 Stuart Wearmouth (GBr)               5.04
31 Vaclav Metlicka (Svk)                5.07
32 Jens Reuker (Ger)                    5.15
33 Wim De Vos (Ned)                     5.27
34 Matthew Ellis (GBr)                  5.35
35 Robert Glajza (Svk)                  5.41
36 Jan Ramsauer (Swi)                   5.45
37 Jonathan Page (USA)                  6.08
38 Gusty Bausch (Lux)                   6.20
39 Marco Paludetti (Ita)                6.31
40 Isaac Suarez Fernandez (Spa)         7.26
41 Juan Carlos Garro Dozagarat (Spa)   1 lap
DNF Camiel Van Den Bergh (Ned)
DNF John Gadret (Fra)
DNF Johannes Huseby (USA)
DNF Andrew Jacques-Maynes (USA)
DNF Jackson Stewart (USA)
DNF Stefano Toffoletti (Ita)
DNF David Collins (GBr)
DNF Zugaitz Ayuso Apaolaza (Spa)
DNF Shinya Ikemoto (Jpn)
DNF Yukinaga Kodaira (Jpn)
DNF Keiichi Tsujiura (Jpn)