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Tabór 2024 was our worst cyclo-cross World Championships since 2000

Belgium, the cyclocross country par excellence, did not win a single world title at the World Championships in Tábor. Painful, but it wasn’t a surprise.

Before the men’s elite cyclo-cross world championships, a doom image was cast: would no compatriot finish on the podium for the first time since 1997? In the World Cup, the Dutch had already occupied the entire top three twice this season, and on the tough course in Tábor the chance was not unrealistic that this would happen again.

For a moment, that scenario seemed to take place during the match, after a bad start by the Belgians. However, Michael Vanthourenhout managed to win from 29e place to fight back to third place, after Mathieu van der Poel and Joris Nieuwenhuis. With a good start the European champion might have earned silver, but he could make peace with his result. The podium was in any case the highest possible, given the supremacy of Van der Poel.

Our compatriots had no illusions about the women in advance. There, a top three place was virtually impossible. The Netherlands’ dominance in that category has been much greater for years. This also became apparent after the match: they occupied places one to four with Fem van Empel, Lucinda Brand, Puck Pieterse and Ceylin Alvarado – a first for a country in the women’s title race. Fifth place for the Belgian Laura Verdontschot was a positive surprise, although she finished just under a minute behind third place.

No top ten among juniors

Expectations were not high in the youth categories either: in the junior and promising girls, Belgium had no contenders for a medal, let alone a world title. And that also became reality, although Xaydee Van Sinaey’s sixth place among the promises, albeit one minute and twenty seconds behind bronze, was also a stroke of luck.

Among the junior girls, no Belgian finished in the top ten. This was also the case for the boys, where Arthur Van Den Boer and Mats Vanden Eynde only finished thirteenth and fourteenth. Not illogical as first-year juniors, but you could certainly expect more from Van Den Boer, who finished fourth in the final rankings of the World Cup. The World Junior Championships became the worst edition for the Belgians since 1993, when Pedro Baelen finished fourteenth in Corva.

Emiel Verstrynghe and Jente Michels, as expected, improved the Belgian reputation somewhat with silver and bronze. However, they also collide with a rider who, as in almost all his races this season, was simply better: the Dutchman Tibor Del Grosso.

No gold or silver among elite

Final balance for the Belgians in the Czech Republic: one bronze medal in the team relay (a side issue that is difficult to take seriously if the Netherlands is not even participating) plus three individual medals (for Vanthourenhout, Verstrynghe and Michels) and no world title.

Zero rainbow jerseys, it is not the first time that a World Cup has been so disappointing. Since the elite women’s competition was introduced at the World Cup in 2000, it has already happened three times: in Tábor 2010, Sankt Wendel 2011 and Ostend 2021 (although there were no junior competitions at the time due to the corona pandemic).

At that time, Belgian cyclocross enthusiasts could always console themselves with silver and bronze among the men’s elite, but that was not possible in Tábor either. For the first time in this century, Belgium was not only deprived of a rainbow jersey, but also of at least silver among the men’s and women’s elite.

The individual medals, three out of eighteen in six competitions, also fell to a low point since 2000 in relation to the total number of medals: 16.7 percent, as low as in 2008, 2009 and 2011, when there were no competitions for junior girls. and promises were on the program. By comparison, the Netherlands won eight medals in Tábor for the fifth year in a row and won three world titles.

It remains remarkable that Belgium, as the mecca of cyclocross sports, is so outdone by the Netherlands. This year that had a lot to do with simply better riders (Van der Poel, Del Grosso, Van Empel) who were able to use their surplus of horsepower on the tough course in Tábor, a weak group among the junior boys, and the disadvantage that our country , despite all the initiatives of the Belgian Cycling Federation, has been in cyclocross for women for years, especially since Sanne Cant no longer reaches the top level. In the short term, there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the horizon who can connect with the top.

Advance of the French

Another striking observation: although cyclo-cross remains mainly Belgian/Dutch in flavor (together the Low Countries won 11 of the 18 individual medals and occupied 29 of the 60 top ten places) – France has taken a step forward thanks to a new cyclo-cross project by the French Cycling Federation: ten top ten places, including a fourth place for first-year promise Léo Bisiaux (also a top talent on the road) and one medal/world title for Célia Gery among the junior girls.

It was the first cyclocross world title for the French since Clément Venturini in 2011, then among the juniors. It could even have been two if Aubin Sparfel had not suffered a puncture in Tábor among the junior boys. For example, Italian Stefano Viezzi became world champion, the first World Cup gold in cyclo-cross for Italy since Davide Malacarne was the best among the juniors at the World Championships in 2005.

Add to that the world title among the girls promises of the British multi-talent Zoë Backstedt, and you could speak of a form of internationalization. The question is whether those foreign top talents (Bisiaux, Sparfel, Viezzi, Gery, Backstedt) will not definitively switch to the road in the longer term, as has often happened in the past. Unless they opt for a mixed road and cyclo-cross program, such as Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Fem van Empel. In combination with a revised seasonal calendar, this could pull cyclo-cross out of the Flemish clay.

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