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Van Aert lived up to his status as the big favourite by claiming an emphatic solo win after a dominant ride at the Belgian Championships; Sweeck was second while Nys took bronze in his final participation in the event




10.01.2016 @ 16:18 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Wout Van Aert again proved that he is currently in a class of his own on the international cyclo-cross scene as he claimed a dominant solo win in the Belgian championships. With a powerful attack in the fourth lap, he dropped all his rivals and even survived a small tumble to claim his first victory in a championship race. Laurens Sweeck delivered a great performance to take silver while Sven Nys won the bronze medal in his final participation in the event.


Last year several dominant performances had made Wout van Aert the overwhelming favourite for the Belgian cyclo-cross championships. However, the youngster seemed to crack under the pressure and a combination of bad legs and luck saw him miss out on the win. Later that year he also missed out on victory in the World Championships.


The failures meant that people were starting to question his ability to handle the pressure at the biggest races and many regarded today’s Belgian Championships in his home city of Lille as his big test. If that was the case, he passed it with outstanding marks as he was in a class of his own on the fast course.


The circuit didn’t suit Van Aert who is at his best in muddy, hard conditions where he can benefit from his massive power. However, that didn’t hold him back and no one was even close to matching him in front of his home fans.


Van Aert bided his time in the first part of the race as a rather big front group swept around the fast circuit, with Laurens Sweeck, Michael Vanthourenhout and Gianni Vermeersch setting the pace. He waited until the fourth lap to make his move when he put in a big attack and from there the outcome was never in doubt.


Tom Meeusen and Vermeersch briefly managed to match his speed but before he had reached the finish line for the fourth time, he found himself as the lone leader. From there, it was a solo ride for the rest of the race, with only disaster able to prevent him from winning the race.


That disaster briefly seemed to strike him when he hit the deck in a muddy section. However, he was immediately back on his bike, got back up to speed and rebuilt his advantage before he eased off a bit in the final two laps.


All the excitement was about the silver and bronze medals and it was Sweeck who looked like the strongest when he emerged as the nearest chaser. At a point, it looked like Kevin Pauwels would catch him but the Marlux captain was suddenly struck by bad cramps which took him out of contention.


Instead, it was veteran Sven Nys in his final participation in the event that had slowly found his legs. After an anonymous start, he was constantly passing riders and after he had also overtaken Pauwels, he found himself with Vanthourenhout around 10 seconds behind Sweeck.


It looked like they would catch the youngster but their progress stalled in the penultimate lap. Hence, Sweeck took the silver medal while a big attack from Nys in the final lap allowed him to take third and step onto the podium at his national championships for a final time in his career.


Van Aert will debut in his new jersey next weekend when the best cyclo-cross riders will gather for the next round of the World Cup in France.


How it unfolded:

As it is so often the case, Laurens Sweeck took the hole-shot and led the peloton through the first turns followed by Tom Meeusen and Wout Van Aert. On the fast course, Meeusen had difficulty keeping up with the youngster as the peloton started to split. Sven Nys was riding in second position and halfway through the lap, a crash split the field, with seven riders getting clear.At the end of the first lap, Sweeck, Meeusen, Van Aert, Kevin Pauwels, Michel Vanthourenhout and Tim Merlier had a small advantage over Nys and Vincent Baestaens while defending champion Klaas Vantornout found himself in the next big group.


Sweeck continued to set the pace in the second lap as Merlier started to lose ground. However, as Sweeck finally took a small breather and let Vanthourenhout take over, the second big group, Nys, Batestaens and Merlier rejoined the leaders to make it a very big front group. The pace soon went up and riders started to lose contact but Van Aert still led a very big leading group at the end of the second lap where Gianni Vermeersch took over the pace-setting.


The youngster set the pace for most of the third lap where there was no great selection. However, the revelation of 2016, Toon Aerts, was clearly suffering on the fast course and was hanging on for dear life at the back. As they hit the tarmac, Van Aert briefly hit the front but it was Dieter Sweeck who took over the pace-setting as they started the fourth lap.


That’s when Van Aert decided to make his move. The big favourite accelerated hard and only Meeusen and Vermeersch were able to keep up with him. They did their best to follow suit but as Van Aert continued at a brutal pace, the elastic soon snapped. At the end of the lap, he had put around 5 seconds into his two chasers, with the Sweeck brothers, Pauwels, Vanthourenhout, Merlier and Baestaens following a few seconds further back. Nys and Vantornout were a little further back.


Meeusen dropped Vermeersch but continued to lose ground to Van Aert who did not slow down. Meanwhile, Laurens Sweeck was riding very strongly in the chase group and quickly rejoined Vermeersch. The pair made it back to Meeusen but the trio was more than 10 seconds behind Van Aert at the end of the lap. Vanthourenhout was in lone pursuit while Nys, Pauwels, Merlier and Baestaens were next.


Sweeck attacked as they crossed the line and only Vermeersch could respond. Meeusen dropped back to Vanthourenhout and the pair was soon caught by the four-rider group led by Pauwels. However, they were still losing ground to Sweeck and Vermeersch.


Sweeck was clearly stronger than Vermeersch and dropped his companion. Meanwhile, Pauwels had slowly found his best legs and was riding away from the big chase group, quickly passing teammate Vermeersch. However, he was still 30 seconds behind Van Aert and 5 seconds behind Sweeck as they crossed the line with four to go. Vanthourenhout and Vermeersch were at 36 seconds while Nys, Merlier, Baestaens and Meeusen were five seconds further adrift.


The race seemed to be decided when Van Aert suddenly crashed in a muddy section. He jumped back onto his bike immediately and got back up to speed with a big advantage but the incident briefly created some excitement among the many fans. Meanwhile, Nys was slowly and had passed Vanthourenhout and Vermeersch.


Van Aert didn’t lose much ground and at the end of the lap, he still had a 21-second advantage over Sweeck. Pauwels was closing in on the youngster and was only trailing him by 3 seconds. Nys was 31 seconds adrift, followed by Vanthourenhout and Vermeersch.


Pauwels continued his steady progress and had nearly caught Sweeck when he was suddenly struck by cramp. He came to a complete standstill and had to see Nys, Vannthourenhout and Vermeersch pass him before he got back up to speed. At that point, he was out of medal contention though. Meanwhile, Vanthourenhout had rejoined Nys and the pair was getting closer to the fading Sweeck.


Van Aert was still increasing his advantage over Sweeck which had gone out to 27 seconds at the start of the penultimate lap. However, the battle for second was exciting as Nys and Vanthourenhout were just 8 seconds further adrift. Pauwels now found himself with Toon Aerts, Meeusen, Merlier, Vermeersch and Baestaens 56 seconds behind the leader.


Van Aert looked like he was already celebrating his win, clearly not taking any risks after his tumble. Hence, he only added four seconds to his lead over Sweeck in the penultimate lap. However, the latter looked like he was riding away with silver as he went into the final lap with a 17-second advantage over Nys and Vanthourenhout. Further back, the big group had splintered as Aerts and Baestaens were now next, followed by Pauwels and then Meeusen


It was now all about the battle for bronze and when Nys briefly distanced Vanthourenhout with an attack at the start of the final lap, it looked like the veteran had secured his spot on the podium. However, the U23 world champion refused to give up and he slowly made it back to Nys. However, the Crelan rider did not slow down and while Van Aert and Sweeck celebrated their achievements, Nys dropped Vanthourenhout in the final section to claim bronze. Aerts was fifth, Baestaens sixth while Pauwels and Meeusen had to settle for seventh and ninth respectively.



1. Wout Van Aert

2. Laurens Sweeck

3. Sven Nys

4. Michael Vanthourenhout

5. Toon Aerts

6. Vincent Baestaens

7. Kevin Pauwels

8. Tim Merlier

9. Tom Meeusen

10. Jim Aernouts 



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