A course with many twists and turns, with muddy passages here and there. The riders had to overcome this on Sunday afternoon in Pontchâteau to win the European cyclo-cross title among the promises.
Last year, Emiel Verstrynge won after a lot of bad luck against his main competitors, but today he was the top favorite to win the European star jersey again. This season he is still looking for his best level, but last year he regularly finished in the top 10 among the pros. In 2022 we even had an entirely Belgian podium at the European Championships, but medal winner Thibau Nys and Witse Meeussen are now riding among the pros.
Victor Vandeputte, Jente Michels and Ward Huybs were expected in advance to compete for the medals. A very strong Belgian bloc. But there are plenty of foreign competitors, including Dario Lillo, David Haverdings and Remi Lelandais.
Heavy rain creates a mud festival
It was the Belgians who started like crazy, but in the opening lap it looked like a race on the road. They rode through the field up to four riders wide. Before the end of the first lap, the floodgates opened completely and that immediately reshaped the circuit and the race.
Under driving rain, the Belgians came to the fore almost immediately. The first five names on the first crossing all had a Belgian flag next to them. But the rest weren’t far away.
Haverdings no longer had to fear the Belgians, because the Dutch talent piled up mistakes and equipment failures. The course became a real mud pit and that clearly suited Huybs, Michels and Verstrynge very well. The three drove away from Lillo and co, meter by meter.
Verstrynge made a mistake on a sloping stretch and Michels ended up alone in the lead, as Huybs had a hard time. Behind them, five Frenchmen made it a half team time trial to sneak closer to the Belgians on the now very tough course, but Michels and Verstrynge – who reunited halfway through the race – quickly proved to be too big.
Gold and silver for Belgium
Michels and Verstrynge, also teammates in a team, joined forces to certainly keep Lillo and the French behind.
The sun came through the clouds again and the sun also shone for the two Belgians. Gold and silver could no longer escape them. In the final round they were allowed to battle it out to see who could wear the European star jersey.
It soon became apparent that luck was on Michels’ side. He drove away from Verstrynge, which was suffering from equipment failure at the worst possible time. A reverse scenario than last year for Verstrynge, when he had luck on his side.
After a fantastic mud cross, Michels raised his arms in the air. He crowned himself a deserved European champion among the promises. Verstynge settled for silver, Huybs had to leave the bronze to the Frenchman Lelandais.