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Belgian National Road Championships - CN
Vilvoorde, June 29, 2003
The Elite Men's Belgian Championships will be held this year in Vilvoorde, near Brussels, over 248.2 kilometres. Unlike many other European countries, the Belgian Championship is a one off event - there are no time trials during the week leading up to it, and no other road titles (women, U23 men, juniors) are decided at this time.
The parcours this year is a fairly standard flat lap of 14.2 km that has to be completed 17 times. The start/finish is on Indringingsweg, and the route crosses Brussels' ring road a couple of times and is technical enough to favour attacking riders. Attack will be the key for most, because if it finishes in a bunch sprint, then Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet) has a chance of breaking Rik Van Steenbergen's record of three Belgian Championships. Steels won the race in 1997, 1998 and 2002, and is motivated to do well again, despite knowing that it is always somewhat of a lottery.
"Let's first see how the race will involve," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "Of course I would like to be Belgian Champion again. I can do it, I'm sure of that. But I'm not doing it for the record, only because it's nice to achieve it."
Steels is still the best Belgian sprinter, "But that doesn't mean I'll win," he says. "There is always competition in the sprint. The only difference is that you can correct a small error in the Belgian Championship, which you can't permit yourself against Zabel, McEwen or Cipollini. But who says it's going to be a mass sprint on Sunday?"
Steels won the last stage of the Tour of Austria after five tough days. "The victory in Vienna was a welcome release. The good feeling came back in Austria, my head was clear again. If I knew that I had to take the bend in fifth position, I took it as the fifth. That's the Tom Steels of old."
If he wasn't a teammate, Ludovic Capelle would be Steels' main rival for the sprint. The winner in 2001 and runner up behind Steels last year, Capelle says that his condition is the same as this time last year. "If Steels and I are together in the finale, we'll be an ideal couple," said Capelle. "If there's a breakaway, I can be the fastest. If it is a mass sprint, I won't mind leading out Steels."
Johan Museeuw (Quick.Step-Davitamon) has won two Belgian Championships (1992, 1996), and although he is satisfied with this, he says "every new title is welcome."
"After the rainbow jersey, this tricolore jersey is the nicest," Museeuw was quoted in Het Nieuwsblad. "I'm proud of my nationality. Also the tricolore is even more important for big teams like Lotto-Domo, Palmans-Collstrop, Vlaanderen or Landbouwkrediet. The pressure is greater in their camps."
Museeuw said that he feels good after the Route du Sud, where he helped his young teammate Michael Rogers win. "With the birth of a great rider like Michael Rogers I had a new goal. I was the road captain. Aimless riding is no longer for me. So I made the tempo on the Peyresourde in the 40 man group. That made me satisfied, but it's no guarantee for the Belgian Championships."
Museeuw isn't sure how he'll race on Sunday, as he doesn't like it when the race breaks apart after 20 kilometres. "I'll decide on Sunday morning how I'll approach this tactically," he added. "Maybe I'll help Jurgen Van Goolen to the win. He's our upcoming man and he is ready for much more than long breakaways."
Quick.Step teammate Frank Vandenbroucke realises that his condition isn't good enough to win: "I would like to be Belgian Champion once, but it won't be this year. The only thing I can do is help the team: Museeuw and Van Goolen, they are doing well."
As for Van Goolen, he gives himself the same chance as anyone else. "90 percent of the riders think they can win on this parcours. But except for Steels and Capelle, everybody needs to attack and have a bit of luck to manage. Me too. In the first lap or in the last one, it doesn't matter."
World Cup leader Peter Van Petegem (Lotto-Domo) hasn't had a good build up, due to stomach problems that have forced him out of races. However, he has still been training. "Some days I was on the bike for more than six hours and on Wednesday and Thursday I did 350 km," he said. "I didn't peak for the Belgian Championship. But I don't say I'm don't have a chance. I'll go for it!" Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) started the week with food poisoning in the Route du Sud, but has recovered now. "I don't know the parcours because I never trained there. I know there'll be a lot of bends and corners. A nervous race. That's why it is the most difficult race of the year. Everybody thinks he can win."
Merckx's teammate Rik Verbrugghe gives himself a small chance at the title. "The Belgian Championship is a big kermesse race and these are not my speciality. Concentration is needed from the start, because the race can already be decided after 20 km. If I want to keep Steels from a fourth title, I'll have to attack. If I'm feeling good, I'll be in an early breakaway. If not, I'll have to do it in the finale."
Nico Mattan (Cofidis) believes that a "top 10 is possible, but the victory is another story." Mattan has been suffering from sinusitis, making breathing hard, but he said that he'll do everything he can to be there.
Teammate Jo Planckaert reckons that "A Belgian title can make my season good. I trained very hard for it in the last few weeks. The ambition is there, winning is something else...it would be nice. I would be the first one in the family who is a professional Belgian Champion." [ed: surely something to include in 'The Planckaerts' TV show]. Rabobank's Marc Wauters will only have two of his trade teammates with him tomorrow, and that will make things more difficult. "I won't take responsibility, only wait and keep my eyes open. The experience will be important. If you are a pro for so long, you feel when something is going to happen."
Winner of stages in the Tour of Austria and the Circuito Montanes, Nico Sijmens (Vlaanderen) is considered an outside chance. "I'll have to watch to be in the right breakaway," he said, admitting he's only been on the bike for two days after Montanes after injuring his knee in the hotel.
Landbouwkrediet - Colnago Quick Step - Davitamon 1 Tom Steels 16 Frédéric Amorison 2 Tony Bracke 17 Tom Boonen 3 Ludovic Capelle 18 Wilfried Cretskens 4 Bert De Waele 19 Kevin Hulsmans 5 Ludo Dierckxsens 20 Johan Museeuw 6 Erik Lievens 21 Nick Nuyens 7 Marc Streel 22 Frank Vandenbroucke 8 Tom Stremersch 23 Kurt Van De Wouwer 9 Kurt Van Landeghem 24 Jurgen Van Goolen 10 Wesley Van Speybroeck 25 Sven Vanthourenhout 11 Johan Verstrepen 12 Nico Weynants Lotto - Domo Palmans - Collstrop 29 Serge Baguet 48 Davy Commeyne 30 Christophe Brandt 49 Danny Daelman 31 Glenn D'hollander 50 Mario De Clercq 32 Hans De Clercq 51 Thierry De Groote 33 Christophe Detilloux 52 Andy De Smet 34 Nico Eeckhout 53 Fabien De Waele 35 Gorik Gardeyn 54 Steve De Wolf 36 Leif Hoste 55 Björn Leukemans 37 Thierry Marichal 56 Geert Omloop 38 Axel Merckx 57 Karl Pauwels 39 Gert Steegmans 58 Frederik Penne 40 Kevin Van Impe 59 Bert Roesems 41 Peter Van Petegem 60 Christoph Roodhooft 42 Wim Vansevenant 61 Erwin Thijs 43 Ief Verbrugghe 62 Kristof Trouve 44 Rik Verbrugghe 63 Gert Vanderaerden 64 Hendrik Van Dyck 65 Michel Van Haecke 66 Tom Vannoppen 67 Peter Wuyts Vlaanderen - T Interim Flanders - Iteamnova 71 Kenny Belaey 95 Ronny Assez 72 Ben Berden 96 Youri Deliens 73 Arne Daelmans 97 Geoffrey Gremelpont 74 Bart De Spiegelaere 98 Jurgen Landrie 75 Geoffrey Demeyere 99 Thierry Masschelein 76 Stijn Devolder 100 Bert Scheirlinckx 77 Matthew Gilmore 101 Staf Scheirlinckx 78 Steven Kleynen 79 Jan Kuyckx 80 David Meys 81 Jef Peeters 82 Jehudi Schoonacker 83 Nico Sijmens 84 Kevin Van Der Slagmolen 85 Jurgen Van De Walle 86 Wim Van Huffel 87 James Vanlandschoot 88 Wouter Van Mechelen 89 Ruud Verbakel 90 Jan Verstraeten 91 Frederik Willems Marlux - Wincor Nixdorf Team CSC 105 Dave Bruymandts 118 Geert Van Bondt 106 Andy Cappelle 119 Paul Van Hyfte 107 Johan Coenen 108 Geoffrey Coupe 109 Johan Dekkers 110 Steven De Neef 111 Patrick D'hont 112 Manu Lhoir 113 Sébastien Mattozza 114 Christophe Stevens 115 Geert Verheyen Cofidis FDJeux.com 122 Peter Farazijn 128 Philippe Gilbert 123 Nico Mattan 124 Chris Peers 125 Jo Planckaert Team Telekom Rabobank 131 Mario Aerts 137 Kevin De Weert 138 Sven Nijs 139 Marc Wauters Spaar Select 142 Peter Van Santvliet 143 Erwin Vervecken 144 Bart Wellens
2002 Tom Steels 2001 Ludovic Capelle 2000 Axel Merckx 1999 Ludo Dierckxsens 1998 Tom Steels 1997 Tom Steels