Just a few hours ago the seaside town of Koksijde in Belgium hosted the 2012 Cyclocross World Championships. Earlier in the season the World Cup visited the iconic sand dunes with Sven Nys and Daphny Van Den Brand taking victory. As part of my research for the event I found a great story on the history of the venue, thanks to the team at Cyclocross Magazine. “For over 40 years Koksijde has been a flagship of Belgium cyclocross – and the Belgians have proved it by winning 35 of the 42 men’s races there.”
Following a successful season as World Champion, Dutch rider Lars Van Der Haar rode brilliantly to defend his Under 23 world title. Belgian rider Wietse Bosmans was sandwiched between 2 Dutch riders Lars Van Der Haar and Michiel Van Der Heijden in the closing laps. The last lap was a constant physical battle for leading position. In the last run through the sand pit Bosmans and Van Der Heijden collided with Van Der Heijden momentarily becoming entangled with the fence, this nullified the Dutch advantage of numbers. It made no difference as Lars Van Der Haar left nothing to chance as he comfortable won the sprint.
1. Lars Van Der Haar – Netherlands
2. Wietse Bosmans – Belgium
3. Michiel Van Der Heijden – Netherlands
Following a string of dominating performances in the lead up to the Koksijde World Championships the women’s field would require a force majeure to topple Marianne Vos.
Vos is absolutely smashing it at the moment and there’s very little anyone can do to beat her. Who could be better than Nicole Cooke to discuss the tactics that could be employed to challenge Vos. After speaking with Nicole as asking her how she could possibly be beaten, her only conclusion was, “one of the strong nations could sacrifice a team mate to put Vos under pressure from the gun. Maybe she might go out too hard. That’s about it.”
Perhaps Brit Helen Wyman had the same idea when she got the holeshot, but it didn’t last long. Within half a lap Vos was riding solo at the front of the race. Over the first three laps, Vos consistently added 11 seconds to her advantage to the second place rider. There were occasional botched dismounts however Vos never looked to be troubled as she rode away to her fifth cross world title.
The race for second was the exciting one to watch. Podium hopeful Katie Compton recovered from another horrendous start to make contact with the chase group, however the chase took it’s toll. Vos’ teammate and overall World Cup Champion Daphny Van Den Brand was looking the strongest in the chase group, which also contained local favourite Sanne Cant and Dutch rider Sanne Van Paassen. Through the decisive sand pit for the final lap Van Den Brand and Cant came out together. The Belgian led the sprint out but Van Den Brand came off her wheel to comfortable take second. Sanne Cant still looked thrilled as she celebrated her third place at her hometown World Championships.
1. Marianne Vos – Netherlands
2. Daphny Van Den Brand – Netherlands
3. Sanne Cant – Belgium
Following performances in the final 2 world cups Kevin Pauwels and Zdenek Stybar were considered the pre-race favourites. Winner of the Koksijde World Cup, Sven Nys looked to not be in dominating form, but you never know with Sven Nys. The Belgians had power in numbers with four potential victors in Nys, Pauwels, Albert and Vantornout. They were also under strict instructions to ride as a nation and not favour their trade team allegiances.
The front row of the grid contained most of the Belgian national team and that is how the race entire race unfolded. The fast starting French rider Steve Chainel was at the front of the race for only a few seconds before Niels Albert took control.
Albert did not disappoint the massive crowd, attacking on the first lap and never looking back. Albert was by far superior in the sand pit; time and time again he rode the entire sand pit in either direction consolidating his advantage. Albert continued to open up a gap and never once display any sign of weakness. It was an amazing individual performance to ride away from the field. The broken hand which sidelined him early in the season may have been a a blessing in disguise as he upgraded last year’s national champion jersey for the rainbow stripes!
Now for the race for second and third. Through the middle of the race Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys continued their season long battle, they were riding for silver and bronze. Nys had Pauwels on the back foot through the sand but their cat and mouse tactics would be detrimental.
With 3 laps to go Nys and Pauwels were caught by the chase group of 4 compatriots. Like most of the race, the entire Belgian National Team led the front. The Czech rider, Radomir Simunek was a minute further back.
Much like the Commonwealth Games, the Koksijde World Championships were doing wonders from Belgium’s self esteem. With 2 laps to go silver and bronze were still up for grabs and we saw some wonderful aggressive racing. At one point Tom Meeusen had a good gap, then Rob Peeters cleared the sand pit to ride away with silver. Meeusen and Pauwels continued to duel and I was devastated when Pauwels got a gap on Meeusen and took third. For the record, Nys faded to 7th and Stybar come in outside the top 10.
Niels Albert – Belgium
Rob Peeters – Belgium
Kevin Pauwels – Belgium
[CT: I'd like to thank Balint Hamvas from CyclePhotos.co.uk for the use of his wonderful photos. He's over in Belgium chasing his dream of becoming a cycling photographer and loving every moment of it. You can pre-order is 2011/12 photo book here if you're interested.]