No World championship panic for Belgium after missing Hoogerheide podium
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Monday, January 21, 2013

No World championship panic for Belgium after missing Hoogerheide podium

by Ben Atkins at 11:01 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, World Championships
“Forewarned is forearmed,” say Sporza pundits after first World Cup shutout for more than a decade

niels albertSunday’s final race in the 2012/13 Cyclocross World Cup, in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, saw Belgium - the winter branch of the sport’s most dominant nation - miss out on the podium for the first time in more than a decade. Czech rider Martin Bina (CEZ Cyklo Team Tabor) took the biggest result of his career to date on the slippery, snowy course, with Dutch champion Lars van der Haar (Rabobank) and Swiss Simon Zahner (EKZ) occupying the other two steps on the podium.

The last time that no Belgium made the top three of a World Cup race was in Pontchâteau, France, back in January 2001, when Dutchman Richard Groenendaal won, ahead of Italy’s Daniele Pontoni and the Czech Republic’s Petr Dlask. With the World championships in Louisville, Kentucky, just two weeks away, some might see the Hoogerheide result as a reason to panic; not so Belgian TV station Sporza’s commentators Michel Wuyts and Paul Herygers.

The result, Wuyts thinks, had more to do with the conditions, and the overall state of the World Cup than the condition of the Belgian riders. There may have only been three Belgians in the top ten - with Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) fourth, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) fifth, and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) eighth - but the way the race was ridden leaves little to worry about.

"Oops, you might think,” Wuyts said to Herygers on Sporza after the race. “It’s going downhill, have the Belgians given too much in recent weeks?

“The answer is no. It had a lot to do with the surface, the special circumstances, the fight for the classification and the misfortune of Pauwels.”

Following Nys’ bad day in the previous World Cup round, in Rome, Italy, two weeks before - where the then Belgian champion was struggling with the aftereffects of bronchitis and could only manage 20th place - the overall competition had come down to a straight fight between World champion Albert and Pauwels. For Pauwels to take the competition, however, he effectively needed to win the race and hope that Albert missed the podium.

Unfortunately for the Sunweb-Napoleon Games rider though, he shipped his chain in the penultimate lap, which cost him any chance of taking a result.

With Pauwels’ challenge over, Albert could afford to ease up and stay out of trouble on what could have potentially been a dangerous course. The World champion still managed to slip over on to his backside on the final lap, but managed to complete the race otherwise unscathed.

No need to worry, but no place for complacency

The fact that three non-Belgian riders managed to keep them off the podium is not something that should be dismissed entirely, however, Wuyts feels.

"On the other hand, it is also a signal,” he said. “Two weeks before the World championships in Louisville; in similar circumstances, the snowmen surprise.”

His colleague Herygers agrees.

"It’s not a big deal, but I've seen enough," said the 1994 World champion. "If we are to believe the weather forecast, it should be snowing and -15 degrees [5 degrees Fahrenheit - ed], and a need to be careful in Louisville.

"The Belgians must know that mistakes can happen,” Herygers added. “We must not panic, but they have to do it. There are still 14 days, so I think they will be perfectly alright.”

In the 1990’s World Cup and World championship podiums were far more international, but the last time the Belgians missed out on all three Worlds medals was in Munich, Germany, in 1997, when Italian Daniele Pontoni won, ahead of Swiss Thomas Frischknecht and Italian teammate Luca Bramati.

Notably, that was the third straight year that this had happened, but the low point of recent times was the sole bronze medal won by Nys in Treviso, behind the Netherlands' Lars Boom and Zdeněk Štybar of the Czech Republic.

In previous years it was not unknown for there to be a total lockout for the Belgians but, since 1998 only Groenendaal, Boom, and Štybar have come between Belgium and the rainbow jersey.

Despite what the Hoogerheide result might indicate, there is no reason to suggest that the Belgians will be anything other than dominant on February 3rd. Nys has recovered from the bronchitis that cost him his overall World Cup and Bpost Bank Trofee chances, while Albert and Pauwels appear to have their usual strong form. The only real worry for Belgium is new national champion Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), who missed the Hoogerheide race with the aftereffects of a heavy crash in the Zonnebeke race on Saturday.

While Sunday’s result is no reason to panic therefore, the possible similar conditions expected in Louisville mean that there is no room for Belgian complacency.

“We have been given a warning,” Wuyts concluded, “and forewarned is forearmed.”


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