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 medalist Thibau Nys and Witse Meeussen are now riding for the pros.
There was also a very strong Belgian block on Sunday, including Victor Vandeputte, Jente Michels and Ward Huybs. But there are plenty of foreign competitors, including Dario Lillo, David Haverdings and Remi Lelandais.
Mudfest due to heavy rain
In the opening lap it seemed 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 forward almost immediately. During the first passage, the first five were Belgian. 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
Michels and Verstrynge, also teammates in a team, joined forces to certainly keep Lillo and the French behind. Gold and silver could no longer escape them.
Ultimately, Michels drove away from Verstrynge when he suffered equipment failure at the worst possible time. After a fantastic mud cross, Michels raised his arms in the air. Huybs had to leave the bronze to the Frenchman Lelandais. A total of five compatriots finished in the top ten.