Last week was bitter sweet for Sweeck

When looking for a contemporary cyclo-cross star back in 2018 to pin my hopes on the Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider Laurens Sweeck fitted the bill.

He was fast, acrobatic, agile and raced at the top tier of the sport taking it to Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.

The last week has made me love him even more with his strengths in cycling overlaid with the emotion of how real life affects you.

There was everything in the Saturday race at Middelkerke (well actually there was no snow, but we got that Sunday) with the Telenet series win up for grabs.

With Eli Iserbyt, a team mate of Sweeck, in for the win depending in what happened to series leader Toon Aerts there was plenty of drama and excitement crammed in to an hour.

Pauwels Sauzen got three riders clear from the start with Aerts struggling. If Iserbyt could take the win he would take the series.

However he was clearly struggling and the team was stuck in a challenging situation of making sure they won the race as opposed to trying something clever to engineer a win for Eli.

Sweeck managed to slip away almost without effort. It was more that the others made mistakes or dropped back but on the last lap of the race it was clear he was emotional and crying whilst trying to understand from his pit team if he should stop and wait close to a minute for Iserbyt.

As it happened Aerts managed to recover enough to climb the field enough to ensure that he had enough points to take the win.

It was only in the post race press conference that a tearful Sweeck revealed that his Father-in-Law had passed away in the week and he’d wanted to win for him.

Iserbyt was critical of the team work which meant there was a bit of spice, even within the same team ahead of Sundays race in Lille (The one in Belgium).

With a coating of snow on the course it was again Sweeck who flew clear just before half distance enjoying a solo win to banish the bad feeling and emotion of 24 hours before.

It was a majestic win with controlled aggression riding over the icy snow and through a frozen forest.

Probably the best weekend of the season so far with an undercurrent of grief and emotion.

My thoughts are with Laurens and his family at this time.

Under the radar and not over the top…

It’s not often I open an article with the headline coming from a lyric created by 1990’s hardcore techno act Scooter, but these are different times.

Cycling is back however with racing over the weekend in Italy with Strade Bianche and today in Lombardy.

Being a fan of Belgian riders, especially those with a cyclo cross slant, you could be forgiven for not getting too far past the performance of Wout Van Aert at the weekend.

He proved once and for all that there is more to converts from the mud and dirt than Mathieu Van der Poel and Zednek Stybar.

His dominant performance in dispatching a group of known grand tour and classics stars was a win for all ages. It was all the better for us having had such a wait to see it.

But down the results list and in the breakaway today is the name of a rider who is going under the radar but is impressing.

The next cab of the rank was likely to be Tim Merlier who was starting his transition to the road and was present in the opening weekend of Flemish classics back in February. But for me Quinten Hermans could be the better bet.

He was up there without being super impressive on the rough stuff in the winter, but has settled in with Wanty/Circus since the restart. He is clearly able to get in a move and hang in until the latter stages of big races.

I will be keeping an eye on him as I think a breakthrough win could be coming soon.

World Cross Review

I’ve taken a bit of time to absorb the weekends Cyclo Cross worlds before posting a blog about it. Ok, I won’t lie its been a busy week…

However, the excitement of the race is still pretty fresh in my memory.

Forget the race for the win, that was pretty one sided from the first corner when Mathieu Van der Poel reached it ahead of the rest and led to the finish.

Behind him there was a real battle for the medals with our own Tom Pidcock fighting it out with Toon Aerts and Wout Van Aert.

It was a race fit for a world championship and run off in the sort of conditions spectators dream about in a ‘cross race.

Our blog at the start of the winter speculated that Van der Poel would need some competition to keep the sport interesting and whilst that didn’t happen here, there is much to admire about the Dutchman, even if it’s not his ability to win a tight race.

Pidcock really was the story here, holding off the others despite a gap than expanded and contracted over the closing laps. Aerts and Van Aert were really close and duked it out shoulder to shoulder for a while before Toon went on to get the bronze medal.

A word for the course which was made really difficult by the freezing rain. Whether that took some spectators and atmosphere away is not clear but it did look like a race on and around a runway, which it was.

Some of the other events were much faster on firmer grass and looked more spectacular rather than attritional as a result.

The right winner for sure, but much for Brits to cheer.

Nommay ‘cross a joy to watch

Eli Iserbyt and Toon Aerts gave us a master class of cyclo cross over the weekend in France.

The duo pedalled away from the rest of the field with Laurens Sweeck the best of the rest over a minute down.

I asked the question earlier this winter as to whether the dominance of Mathieu Van der Poel was good for the sport.

Dont get me wrong. I love the guy and his strength and power. But this duel was perfect racing and great entertainment.

First it looked like Iserbyt was going to win. Then Aerts came back. He then went ahead and the gap looked unassailable before Eli got back on terms.

Somehow he then found the spirit and strength to attack before Aerts found his way back to the front from a position where all looked lost.

It went down to a sprint with the young talent Iserbyt getting his wheel over the line first.

What a brilliant advert for ‘cross.

The road season starts up again with the Tour down Under this week and it will have to pack a punch to get to this level.