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2004 World Cyclocross Championships - CM
Pont-Château, France, January 31-February 1, 2004
February 1 - Elite Men: 60 Minutes
Belgium, Belgique, België
Second rainbow for Wellens in tight sprint
By Chris Henry in Pont-Château, with additional reporting by Mélanie Leveau
Defending champion Bart Wellens led his country home to a clean sweep in the Elite Men's Cyclo-cross Championships, winning a close sprint against Mario De Clercq, with Sven Vanthourenhout just seconds behind at the end of the 10 lap race. From the very first lap, Belgium was in control with all six riders among the leaders. Sven Nys suffered from a debilitating cramp midway through the race, but the rest of the Belgian armada was as fearsome as anticipated and left no doubt that the nation remains the epicentre of cyclo-cross.
"To beat De Clercq in a sprint is a real honour," Wellens said after his rainbow repeat. "Eight times out of ten in the same situation he would be the winner. I didn't have a fast start, but I wanted to take control of the race fairly quickly. De Clercq was the only real opponent. With two laps to go I decided to bet on a sprint."
Wellens and De Clercq were clearly the two strongest riders on the day as they took control after halfway, with Vanthourenhout yo-yoing off the back for the rest of the race. Despite several powerful accelerations by Wellens, De Clercq was able to match all of them and together with Vanthourenhout, the race finished in a three man sprint. De Clercq pushed Wellens all the way to the line, but a fourth and final world title was not in the offing for the Super Mario of 'cross. Young Vanthourenhout, happy with his own third place and his team's podium sweep, raised his arms in delight as Wellens and De Clercq surged to the line.
Although a very Belgian affair, the race remained animated throughout, with a few surprises along the way. Perhaps the least expected result was the abandon of Sven Nys, who looked uncomfortable at best on the first lap, and steadily disappeared from the lead as the race went on. Suffering all day, Nys hit his limit on the long run-up, nearly tripping on a barrier before being seized completely by a cramp in his leg. Unable to carry on, he sat on one of the barriers in anguish, his World's a complete loss.
Nys did not finish the race, the only hiccup in the Belgian performance which put the rest of the team no lower than sixth place. Only Daniele Pontoni of Italy could better a Belgian, taking fourth ahead of Ben Berden and Erwin Vervecken. Pontoni himself had a tremendous race, coming from nowhere after a dismal first lap, steadily reeling in the leaders and staying close to the Belgians for the remainder of the race. The Italian former world champion was once again in top form, but could not match the trio of Wellens, De Clercq and Vanthourenhout.
The twisting, turning Pont-Château course was like a giant wave pool, as a tide of deafening cheers followed the riders around the ten laps. With lap times just over six minutes, excluding the blistering first lap covered in 5'54, there was no down time for racers and fans alike. Each lap saw a trio or quintet of Belgians, virtually assuring a third world title for the country even if the final victor remained up in the air. Berden and De Clercq each came through the finish line on short solo moves, but the endless attack and counter attack provided a rotating leadership within the national team.
Through the seventh, eighth and ninth laps, De Clercq and Wellens were away, flying toward a sprint between the defending champion and Belgium's elder statesman of cyclo-cross, a three time rainbow jersey holder. Ultimately, it was Vanthourenhout who put it what could be described as the most aggressive race of the day. Although he lost contact with De Clercq and Wellens on several occasions, Vanthourenhout fought back each time and eventually distanced the rest of the field as he latched on to the final escape that mattered. Easily outclassed in the final sprint, he was more than happy to complete the Belgian podium.
For De Clercq, the result was bittersweet. A three-time world champion riding on a parcours perfectly suited to his abilities, De Clercq had every chance to win and had the fitness to show for it. Still, after a season of being left off the Belgian World Cup teams and relatively few races head to head with his top rivals at home, De Clercq returned from the brink of retirement to come within half a wheel of a final rainbow jersey.
"I had trouble finding sponsorship last winter, and was very close to stopping," De Clercq explained. "I knew today I would have to concentrate on a tactical race."
Looking beyond the Belgians, a number of nations had good performances in Pont-Château. France put young talent John Gadret among the Belgian leaders early on, and even though he faded later in the race, FDJeux.com's 'cross recruits Francis Mourey and David Derepas finished a respectable 7th and 17th, with Emmanuel "Manu" Magnien delighting the fans with a solid ride for 23rd.
Czech riders Petr Dlask and Jiri Pospisil both cracked the top 15, while Switzerland and the Netherlands both figured among the best of the rest after the Belgian juggernaut. Dutch champion Richard Groenendaal, Nys' Rabobank teammate, also suffered today and was forced to abandon. The American performance did not match the success of the women earlier in the day, but Jonathan Page, Andrew Jacques-Maynes, and Jackson Stewart each put in a good effort against stiff competition.
Bart Wellens has put his stamp on the 2003-2004 cyclo-cross season, winning consistently, earning the Belgian national champion's jersey in January, and backing up his 2003 world title with a repeat performance. Wellens confessed that 2003 was a more special victory, being his first elite title, but after choking back tears during the podium ceremony, he showed that the result was not taken for granted.
Images by Chris Henry/Cyclingnews.com
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Russ & Nancy Wright/www.AbbiOrca.com
Images by Luc Claessen/Cyclingnews/www.actiefotos.be
1 Bart Wellens (Belgium) 1.02.19 2 Mario De Clercq (Belgium) 3 Sven Vanthourenhout (Belgium) 0.07 4 Daniele Pontoni (Italy) 0.21 5 Ben Berden (Belgium) 0.24 6 Erwin Vervecken (Belgium) 0.29 7 Françis Mourey (France) 0.38 8 Petr Dlask (Czech Republic) 0.40 9 Michael Baumgartner (Switzerland) 0.49 10 Alessandro Fontana (Italy) 1.09 11 Roger Hammond (Great Britain) 1.28 12 Wilant Van Gils (Netherlands) 13 Jiri Pospisil (Czech Republic) 1.45 14 Gerben De Knegt (Netherlands) 15 Maarten Nijland (Netherlands) 16 David Rusch (Switzerland) 2.03 17 David Derepas (France) 2.05 18 Kamil Ausbuher (Czech Republic) 2.10 19 Arnaud Labbe (France) 2.20 20 David Seco Amundarain (Spain) 2.28 21 Jan Ramsauer (Switzerland) 2.45 22 Beat Morf (Switzerland) 2.49 23 Emmanuel Magnien (France) 2.56 24 Robert Glajza (Slovakia) 3.14 25 Vaclav Jezek (Czech Republic) 3.22 26 Isaac Suarez Fernandez (Spain) 3.27 27 Jens Schwedler (Germany) 3.35 28 John Gadret (France) 3.43 29 Ondrej Lukes (Czech Republic) 4.00 30 Jody Crawforth (Great Britain) 31 Tadeusz Korzeniewski (Poland) 32 Jonathan Page (United States) 4.17 33 Andrew Jacques Maynes (United States) 4.23 34 Vaclav Metlicka (Slovakia) 5.08 35 Milan Barenyi (Slovakia) 5.25 36 Malte Urban (Germany) 5.39 37 Igor Tavella (Italy) 5.56 38 Maros Kovac (Slovakia) 6.13 39 Camiel Van Den Bergh (Netherlands) 6.16 40 Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg) 6.32 41 Haitz Ortiz Tolaretxipi (Spain) 7.44 1 lap behind 42 Jackson Stewart (United States) 43 Shaun Snodden (Great Britain) DNF Sven Nys (Belgium) DNF Lorenzo Perotti (Italy) DNF Pietro Pavoni (Italy) DNF Richard Groenendaal (Netherlands) DNF Christian Heule (Switzerland) DNF David Collins (Great Britain) DNF Matthew Ellis (Great Britain) DNF Fernando Fernandez Magan (Spain) DNF Dariusz Gil (Poland) DNF Keiichi Tsujiura (Japan) Nations Ranking 1 Belgium 6 pts 2 Czech Republic 39 3 Netherlands 41 4 France 43 5 Switzerland 46 6 Italy 51 7 Great Britain 84 8 Spain 87 9 Slovakia 93 10 United States 107 11 Germany 63 12 Poland 31 13 Luxembourg 40