The Big Picture | 2020 Belgian Cyclocross Nationals Men’s Elite Race

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.

Don’t be fooled by the refinery in the background, this is a beach. Where Antwerp comes to play.

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.

Elves riding the elevators at Brussels Airport, Elves at CXNats in Antwerp. Belgians love the elves.
Serious Belgian men in funny hats is a coffee table book I’ve been meaning to make since Louisville Worlds.
When in Belgium … the training plan calls for frites. The Alpha squad knows using the little forks means you won’t be mistaken for a heathen, or a foreigner.

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.

Lots going on here. Sporza drone in top left, rescue boat bottom right. Dutch registered party boat. Hanging excavator from sponsor Nye. Industrial background. It goes without saying that Floaty Cross had it all.
Green means go. From behind the grid at the start of the men’s elite race.

The men’s elite race began with defending national champ, Toon Aerts, having a clean start and leading early.

Toon Aerts raced like a champ. Still recovering from injury, he wasn’t going down without a fight.

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.

Iserbyt leads the way in the sand on lap two. With so many deep ruts in the sand, the field was forced into a long single-file line quickly and a front group quickly formed.
Still on lap two, Iserbyt rides the final sand section before the barge. Aerts is forced to dismount.
Chasing behind are Tim Merlier, Michael Vanthourenhout, Laurens Sweeck 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.

Big ruts and a big lead for Sweeck.
Iserbyt controls the front as the chasers start to think about podium spots rather than winning.

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.

Big crowds everywhere. About a third of the crowd to the left is in the frame.
Easy Pontons got their money’s worth for this sponsorship opportunity.
250 euro got you a unique view of the races from the party boat. All you can eat and drink, but no port of call. Once you were on it, you were there for the duration. Spectators and photographers were not allowed on Floaty Cross.

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.

Once he knew the race was his, the tears were not going to be held back.
Laurens Sweeck, 2020 Belgian Cyclocross National Champion
The Sauce Boss was thrilled.

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.

A second step finish for Iserbyt this time around. He will have plenty more opportunities in years to come.

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.

Crowds follow the man wherever he goes.

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.

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