I hitched a ride to Antwerp, today, with the Alpha Bicycle Co.-Groove Subaru squad to check out the men’s U23 and elite races at Belgian Cyclocross Nationals. I had the parking pass, they had the van, so it seemed like a fair trade-off. Unfortunately, we were not able to travel, yesterday, so I do not have coverage of the Belgian women’s elite race that took place on Saturday.
Funny hats, supporter jackets, beer and frites were all present and accounted for at the Scheldecross venue on the Antwerpen beach. A beach that looked onto heavy industrial sites and windmills, yet still sported the random jetski, even on this January day.
There was a lot of pre-race hype over the floating pontoon section of the track, and the VIP party boat that pulled up alongside for Sunday’s U23 and elite men’s races. To answer the most-asked question, yes, there were medics in boats ready to be called into action if any riders (or VIPs) went overboard. None did. While “Floaty Cross” was a spectacle and a great marketing ploy, that section was far from a determining factor in the race.
The men’s elite race began with defending national champ, Toon Aerts, having a clean start and leading early.
Race favorite Eli Iserbyt soon joined Toon and took the lead. Eli’s teammates, Michael Vanthourenhout and Laurens Sweeck were in the scrum behind, along with Tim Merlier and Wout van Aert.
Sweeck maneuvered his way to the leaders and soon was off the front, alone. From there, it was his race to lose, and he had no intention of doing so.
The crowds at Belgian Nats were as large as you would expect. But for a few exceptions, they weren’t rowdy and getting around the venue wasn’t too difficult. The double-fencing was a nice perk for credentialed photographers to be able to move around unencumbered.
Laurens Sweeck had a large contingent of fans rooting him on and the finale was an emotional one. The Pauwels-Sauzen Bingoal team took home titles in both the men’s U23 and elite races.
Race favorite, Iserbyt, did not win, he said he would play the good teammate if the situation called for it. He did just that and finished a respectable second in his first elite national championship.
Although Wout ended up in fifth, he remained first in most every Belgian’s heart. Cheered for the loudest during the race, and swarmed afterwards.
Tomorrow we travel to Otegem for the final race Alpha Bicycle Co.-Groove Subaru will line up for on this trip. Then it’s back to the US for a short visit before returning to Europe for Hoogerheide World Cup and Worlds in Switzerland.