After close to two weeks in Belgium, the final stop on tour was at the annual day-after-nationals race at Otegem. This truly local race—it’s not part of a series like the DVV or Superprestige—attracts big names (on the men’s side) and is usually the race that the new Belgian champs show off their kits.
Because of schedule conflicts, travel time, time-off needed, or a lack of start money, most of the top women stayed away from the race. Alicia Frank and the rest of the Experza team made the most of the situation controlling the front and placing most of the squad in the top six. Franck took the win, Anna Kay was third, behind Ellen van Loy. Mannon Bakker was fifth and new French champ, Marion Norbert Riberoll, finished sixth.
Otegem is a bit of a bipolar race venue. It is truly an urban cross for the first half, winding its way through city streets, a soccer complex, and a cookie-cutter neighborhood, before ending up in a muddy field with cultivated dirt mounds. The top half of the track, through the neighborhood and around the soccer field was blazing fast. The muddy field portion, wasn’t much of a deterrent either which meant fast lap times and lots of opportunities to see the race.
A lot of opportunities to see the race as long as you didn’t try to move from one section to another. Every feature on this course was a five minute walk from the next. You were funneled on to narrow sidewalks that, on this day, were asked to carry more traffic than they do the rest of the year. It was tough to get around. Most of the spectators were out late after Belgian Nationals and started the morning in line at the beer stand to make sure the hangover didn’t set in too soon. DJ Benny was also back to ensure the party lasted well into the night.
On the men’s side, Mathieu van der Poel won the race. No surprise there. For the rest of the field, it certainly felt like a day in which most were fulfilling contractual obligations and collecting start money. Lots of casual conversations could be overheard in the field during the race.
Laurens Sweeck, the one guy you could give a pass to for mailing this one in, was enjoying some pre-race champagne before hitting the start grid. At the finish, his pit crew cajoled him into taking a clean bike for the finish (he was in 11th and most of the finish line crowd was already leaving). Sweeck, seeing this as a lost cause, reluctantly took the new bike and then made sure to ride through every mud puddle in the pits to get it just as dirty as the bike he just jettisoned.
Not to be upstaged, his crew then ran across the pits, grabbed the power washer hose, and started spraying Sweeck as he rode by to re-clean the bike on the fly (and drench the new champ as a bit of payback.)
Hijinx done, it was time to pack up and fly back to the US for a week. Next up is Hoogerheide and World Champs. Until then, cyclocross friends.