It’s a Knockout!

2007 World Cyclocross Championships

Sven Nys – The favourite, yet again, having dominated all season. Yet something always seems to go awry come the championships. This time, surely…
Bart Wellens – Drop-kicking bad-boy of the bunch. Erratic but brilliant on his day.
Erwin Vervecken – Defending champion but, with just one win all season, a long shot to retain the title.
Enrico Franzoi – Former under-23 World Champion with podium potential.
Richard Groenendaal – Dutch veteran, former World Champion and three-time World Cup winner.
Jonathan Page – Page? He’s American, right? Forget it.

Hooglede-Gits, Belgium. Technically demanding and very slippery.

Nys, Wellens and Vervecken pull clear of the leading group and the huge partisan crowd go wild at the prospect of a Belgian clean sweep. Until, that is, Wellens collides with a plastic bollard, damaging his wrist and opening an extraordinary sequence of events running throughout the race. Nys goes into the back of Wellens, the first of his three crashes. Yet again, the overwhelming favourite has lost out. Vervecken presses on alone, still with a handsome lead, until the lethal steep bank claimed its first high profile victim of the day. The veteran went arse-over-tit in a pothole and his lead was gone. “Tsk, tsk, tsk” came the admonishment from Belgium TV commentary.

Vervecken was now back in the lead group of contenders, most of whom were struggling – and failing – to stay upright. Groenendaal went down; Franzoi catapulted through the air above the sandpit; Davy Commeyne slammed into a fence post. Turn away from the screen for just a few seconds and another rider would be missing, a victim of mud, sand or over-exubrance. The already breathtakingly surreal nature of the race took a bizarre turn on the previously mentioned bank, as the over-excited throng of fans pressed forward and fencing collapsed, narrowly avoiding the struggling Wellens.

And now the unthinkable happened. With two laps remaining and on home soil, the Belgians were no longer in charge of the race, as Page powered away from Vervecken. Rapid accelerations not being the defending champion’s forte, slowly Vervecken reeled in the American.

Last time up that steep bank proved decisive. Page switched to the left, losing momentum all the way. Vervecken surged up the right, avoiding the crater that had earlier proved so troublesome. And the race was his.

All three podium finishers were happy: Vervecken won with dogged persistence and (perhaps) profited from other’s misfortunes. Page rode the race of his life. Franzoi crossed the line arms aloft, more than content with bronze after a hard road season.

Simply the finest ‘cross race ever… Unless, of course, you know different?

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