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2006 Cyclocross World Championships - CM
Zeddam, Netherlands, January 28-29, 2006
Race 4 - January 29: Elite men
Vervecken reclaims World Championship after Nys takes a fall
By Steve Medcroft, with additional reporting from Brecht Decaluwé
On Sunday afternoon in Zeddam, the Netherlands, Erwin Vervecken (Bel) reclaimed the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship crown he last held in 2001 in Tabor after a dramatic, action-filled race.
More than any other discipline of cycling, weather can dictate the playing field for a cyclo-cross. 'Crossers will be the first to tell you that the nastier the weather is, the more they welcome the challenge of the race. But the skies over Zeddam in the Netherlands decided to be kind instead of cruel to the 2006 Cyclo-cross World Championships. They've kept themselves free of clouds and rain to give riders clear visibility and dry ground but have stayed cold enough to keep the surface of the racecourse a frozen, firm platform to race on.
Which means that the men's World Championship podium positions should have gone only to the racers with the greatest ability to handle their bike and the biggest engines. On Sunday, the men's start list seemed to say that Sven Nys should be the 2006 World Champion and the powerhouse Belgian National would be able to completely have their way with the rest of the field. And they did. Almost.
Unlike in the women's race (where a lead group of three immediately distanced themselves from the pack and dominated the pace), not one rider in the men's race could get away from an oversized lead group.
A couple had tried; Czech Republic riders Petr Dlask and Kamil Ausbuher spent time fighting to put air between themselves and the rest of the bunch. Even Bart Wellens (Bel) spent almost two laps dangling 50 meters ahead of a hard-chasing defending World Champion Sven Nys (Bel).
But after five of nine total laps on the three kilometre course, an up to 15 man lead group (of a 56 rider field) was allowed to survive. In it, there were some dangerous hangers-on; Besides driving the pace on the first lap, Dlask had shown strong form in several world cups this season, American Jonathan Page was in the middle of the group and seemed on the verge of a breakout result, and Gerben De Knegt (Ned) was a dark horse favourite to win the race on home turf.
To break up the huge group, pre-race favourites Nys, Vervecken and Wellens all took turns driving the train; as did Frenchman Francis Mourey. When a lead group containing Mourey and four Belgians finally formed for the final-lap showdown (add Tom Vannoppen to Wellens, Vervecken and Nys), it looked like we might see an all-Belgian podium.
But Nys lost control of his front wheel on a tricky descent, hit the frozen ground hard and knocked himself completely out of the race. "I hit a tree with my handlebar then I fell on my hip," he said about the spill. "That was it. End of race."
Of the three men left, Vervecken had the lead and was able to use the momentum of the moment to build the winning gap. "With a half lap to go," he said after the race, "I knew I could win. In the last corners, everything was like a dream. This world title was far more emotional than my first one in Tabor."
Wellens was trapped behind Mourey and had to be content to wait for a chance to sprint for second. After the race, Vervecken said he felt his teammate was actually the strongest rider. "Bart started very strong. I was able to sit back and let the race develop and little but Wellens was the strongest man in the race; I have no problem admitting that."
Wellens agreed. "Today was my best day of the season; I was the strongest man in the race and could have won," he said in the post-race press conference. "My last few weeks have been very good. I trained a lot and decided to place my bets at this World Championship."
Wellens admitted that his other teammate (Nys) had been his biggest concern and hedged the bet with a little reinforcing research. "I looked to some tapes to compare the Nys from December with the Nys from this month and I could see, in small details, that he wasn't as good. In the race you don't see things like him shaking his head in the direction of the pits," he gave as an example. "The video tapes give me the opportunity to see another side of Nys."
Whatever their personal feelings, Wellens was only second best on the day when he just nipped Mourey meters before the line.
As for that third man on the podium, Mourey shrugged and said, "Wellens beat me for second place. I can accept that."
It seems like coming away from a World Championship Cyclo-cross weekend with only three medals to its credit (Junior Bronze, Elite men's Gold and Silver) could be a sign of disaster for the normally dominant Belgian National Cyclo-Cross Team. But coach Rudy De Bie said "We don't have the complete podium [in the men's race] and that a shame. But having the number one and number two is fantastic."
American Jonathan Page put up a strong fight to earn 10th place; the best American finish. It was interesting to see how accepted into the European cyclo-cross culture he is. Standing in the crowd of fans watching the giant television screen in the middle of the course, Page got more screen time than many of the other members of he leading group (barring the Belgians, of course). With his result, Page brings two things to the mind of anyone who cares about the state of American cyclo-cross; he proved that once again that he is the top American competing in cyclo-cross and it makes you wonder how well America might have done with U.S. National Champ Todd Wells in the lineup?
Other American results include Barry Wicks at 33rd, Jeremy Powers at 35th, Eric Tonkin at 48th and Jonathan Baker at 49th.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Luc Claessen/www.actiefotos.be
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com
1 Erwin Vervecken (Belgium) 1.05.40 2 Bart Wellens (Belgium) 0.02 3 Francis Mourey (France) 4 Steve Chainel (France) 0.12 5 Tom Vannoppen (Belgium) 0.16 6 Kamil Ausbuher (Czech Republic) 0.19 7 Enrico Franzoi (Italy) 0.32 8 Gerben de Knegt (Netherlands) 0.46 9 Vladimir Kyzivat (Czech Republic) 0.49 10 Jonathan Page (United States of America) 0.50 11 Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic) 0.51 12 Klaas Vantornout (Belgium) 0.54 13 Christian Heule (Switzerland) 1.09 14 Milan Barenyi (Slovakia) 1.15 15 Malta Urban (Germany) 1.27 16 Marek Chichosz (Poland) 1.29 17 Sven Vanthourenhout (Belgium) 1.37 18 Bart Aernouts (Belgium) 1.38 19 Petr Dlask (Czech Republic) 1.43 20 Thijs Al (Netherlands) 1.49 21 Richard Groenendaal (Netherlands) 1.53 22 Maarten Nijland (Netherlands) 2.02 23 André Labbe (France) 2.04 24 Michael Baumgartner (Switzerland) 2.12 25 Camiel van den Bergh (Netherlands) 2.13 26 Unai Yus (Spain) 2.15 27 Robert Glajza (Slovakia) 2.25 28 Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg) 2.29 29 Zdenek Mlynar (Czech Republic) 2.43 30 Roberto Petito (Italy) 2.53 31 Dariusz Gil (Poland) 32 Vaclaf Metlicka (Slovakia) 3.04 33 Barry Wicks (United States of America) 3.07 34 Isaac Suarez (Spain) 3.11 35 René Birkenfeld (Germany) 3.24 36 Jeremy Powers (United States of America) 3.27 37 Alessandro Fontana (Italy) 3.35 38 Simon Zahner (Switzerland) 3.45 39 Johannes Sickmuller (Germany) 4.21 40 Wilant van Gils (Netherlands) 4.32 41 Oscar Vazquez (Spain) 4.36 42 Davide Frattini (Italy) 4.37 43 Mariusz Gil (Poland) 4.44 44 Keiichi Tsujiura (Japan) 4.52 45 Jody Crawforth (Great Britain) 4.55 46 Masanori Kosaka (Japan) 5.04 47 Greg Reain (Canada) 5.22 48 Eric Tonkin (United States of America) 49 Jonathan Baker (United States of America) 5.41 50 Marco Bianco (Italy) 5.56 DNF Sven Nys (Belgium) DNF John Gadret (France) DNF David Seco (Spain) DNF Peter Presslauer (Austria) DNF Martin Bina (Czech Republic) DNF Jochen Uhrig (Germany) Nations ranking 1 Belgium 8 2 Czech Republic 26 3 France 30 4 Netherlands 49 5 Slovakia 73 6 Italy 74 7 Switserland 75 8 United States of America 79 9 Germany 89 10 Poland 90 11 Spain 101 12 Japan 90 13 Luxembourg 28 14 Great-Britain 45 15 Canada 47