1999 World Elite Cyclocross Championship
Sunday, January 31, 1999
Lap by Lap
Report:In a thrilling race, Belgian Mario de Clercq repeated his 1998 triumph and won the Elite World Championship in the Slovakian city of Poprad. He won by defeating his compatriot Erwin Vervecken in a sprint. Veteran Dutchman Adrie van der Poel was third.
The Belgian squad can look back on the world championships with great satisfaction: they won 5 medals - two gold (De Clercq and Wellens) and three silver (Vervecken, Vannoppen and Vanthourenhout). By far the dominant nation at these Championships and also throughout the season.
The Elite race was full of suspension and unforeseeable incidents. At the start, Mario de Clercq took the lead immediately, and he was followed by Czech Radomir Simunek and the Pole Tadeusz Korzeniewski. A small chasing group comprising Adri Van der Poel and Daniele Pontoni, both former World Champions, were at a distance to the top group. As the riders passed the finish line for the first time, a new group formed at the front. The two front groups had united but the unknown Polish rider Korzeniewski was no longer present.
A second group contained hopeful and big favourite, two-times Under-23 Champion Sven Nijs and Swiss hero Thomas Frischknecht. Also with them were Dutch rider Wim de Vos and the Belgian "sleeper" Erwin Vervecken. Nijs had a bad start, and as things turned out a bad day overall. He was never able to make contact with the leading group and laboured away in vain chasing hard all day.
Pontoni was on the front of the race and kep the speed high. Van der Poel was working with him seemingly to keep the chasing bunch at a distance and therefore make the end of the race less cluttered. The Italian, particularly was riding like a man motivated to repeat his past glories. He intimidated his fellow breakaways by staying on his bike while the others had to walk on some sections of the circuit. Bart Wellens had used this tactic to great advantage the day before in the Under-23 race. Pontoni took the lead several times, but Van der Poel was able to catch him every time he tried to break away. The two of them drove the race.
While Nijs did not have the strength to figure in the race, his fellow squad member Erwin Vervecken was able to bridge the gap between the Nijs's group and the top riders. As Vervecken came across, there were attacks and it seemed that last year's winner Mario de Clercq, was in trouble. He lost contact with the front group soon after Vervecken joined it. As the top bunch hit the hardest part of the parcours, another casuality - Van der Poel seemed to falter and fell behind. He recovered well and just as he was regaining contact he fell on a particularly slippery section of the track.
The two leading riders now were Vervecken and Pontoni. Vervecken, who won silver last year in Denmark, then attacked hard and he was out in front on his own. Pontoni's position worsened after a chaotic bike switch in the "pit-lane". He was now in fourth place behind Vervecken, Van der Poel, and Mario De Clercq. Van der Poel recovered from his fall and was around 15 seconds to Vervecken. De Clercq also seemed to be finding his legs again and was a short distance to Van der Poel.
But it was Vervecken who looked like a man possessed. While only considered an outsider for the overall medal he was now dominating the race and forcing all the favourites to dig deep to maintain a semblance of contact. He was also showing no signs of fatigue. The gap between Vervecken and Van der Poel was increasing and it looked like the Belgians would have another Flemish hero. But they would have been too early in putting a gold against his mane.
Normally, cyclo-cross races last one hour. The last lap extended the race beyond the hour and it was too much for the flying Belgian. The race took a major turn in the last lap as Mario de Clercq regaining his power and motivation shot past Van der Poel and then bridged the 15 seconds to his compatriat Vervecken, who by now was slowing. Vervecken also knew that in a two-up sprint he would have no chance against the powerful De Clercq. He tried to break away from his teammate but De Clercq's confidence was now high and he was able to control any of the breaks that Vervecken attempted. Just as they came into the last corner, De Clercq powered past Vervecken. The latter was clearly angry that his chance at the gold was gone. There was some feeling around the parcours that Vervecken was angry with De Clercq for not giving him the race after Vervecken had helped him all season in the World Cup competition. But Mario is the Napoleon of Belgian cross racing and a tough and fair rider. A world championship is a world championship and you don't give them away.
Whatever, Vervecken was the only Belgian who was depressed after the race, while the whole Belgian squad was preparing to party given that the they had another three riders in the top ten: Sven Nijs was sixth, Peter van Santvliet took ninth place, and Ben Berden, called up after the suspension of Belgian Champion Marc Janssens, was tenth. Who knows what would have happened if the strong and in-from Janssens had have been there.
Results, 11 x 2.68 km laps, 29.88 kms
1. Mario De Clercq (Bel) 1.02.50 (28.533 km/h) 2. Erwin Vervecken (Bel) 0.08 3. Adrie Van Der Poel (Ned) 0.24 4. Daniele Pontoni (Ita) 1.24 5. Thomas Frischknecht (Swi) 1.42 6. Sven Nijs (Bel) 2.09 7. Radomir Simunek (Cze) 2.13 8. Peter Van Santvliet (Bel) 2.49 9. Jiri Pospisil (Cze) 3.17 10. Ben Berden (Bel) 3.41 11. Miguel Martinez (Fra) 3.48 12. Wim De Vos (Ned) 4.01 13. Christophe Mengin (Fra) 4.21 14. Maarten Nijland (Ned) 4.32 15. Peter Dlask (Cze) 4.43 16. Tadeusz Korzeniewski (Pol) 4.54 17. Gerben De Knegt (Ned) 4.59 18. Kamil Ausbuher (Cze) 5.20 19. Dieter Runkel (Swi) 5.28 20. Beat Wabel (Swi) 5.44 21. Steve Knight (Gbr) 5.45 22. Robert Glajza (Svk) 5.45 23. Dale Knapp (USA) 5.56 24. Roland Schatti (Swi) 6.24 25. Bjorn Rondelez (Bel) 6.33 26. Emmanuel Magnien (Fra) 6.34 27. Pawel Cierpikowski (Pol) 6.34 At 1 Lap: 28. Pavel Prosek (Cze) 29. Luca Bramati (Ita) Abandoned: Sebastien Loigerot (Fra) Christophe Morel (Fra) Beat Blum (Swi) Klaus Nielsen (Den) Richard Groenendaal (Ned) Davide Bertoni (Ita) Igor Tavella (Ita) Etxeberria Yon Carballeda (Spa) Francisco Mena Rodriguez (Spa) Francisco Jose Pla Garcia (Spa) David Seco Amundarain (Spa) Antonio Suarez Fernandez (Spa) Marc Gullikson (USA) Stuart Blunt (Gbr) Barrie Clarke (Gbr) Matthew Ellis (Gbr) Richard Thackray (Gbr) Ray Duggan (Can) Masanori Kosaka (Jpn) Masahiko Mifune (Jpn) Shinobu Noguchi (Jpn) Raita Suzuki (Jpn) Milan Barenyi (Svk) Viliam Liptak (Svk) Pavol Medved (Svk) Jozef Nazarej (Svk) Jozsef Otto (Hun) Viktor Specziar (Hun) Zsolt Vinczeffy (Hun) Dietmar Stari (Aut) Zbigniew Adamus (Pol) Radoslav Czapla (Pol) Otto Mircea (Rom) Dmiriv Borisov (Ukr) Did Not Start: Massimo Sargentini (Ita)