Since 1998 the Belgians have had a stranglehold on cyclocross the way the moon has a stranglehold on werewolves. Before today, ten of the last twelve men’s world championships have been won by Belgians. The two years they didn’t win were taken by Dutch riders. From 2003 to 2005 the Belgians swept the podium; they would have done it again in 2006 were it not for interloper Francis Mourey stealing bronze.
World Cup champion Zdenek Stybar has been on form all season, and put everyone on notice that yet another silver at worlds (following his second place finishes in 2008 and 2009) wouldn’t suffice. But did anyone really think he could overcome the Belgian mafia? Home court advantage or no, the Belgian team showed up with three—three!—former world champions. They could in-fight their way to another podium sweep.
But it wasn’t to be. While the Belgian team did put two riders and the podium and three in the top ten, the best-placed Belgian was newcomer Klaas Vantournot. Sven Nys was the only former world champion to finish on the podium, in third. Meanwhile, Bart Wellens was tenth and Erwin Verveckin finished a dismal 16th.
You think that’s surprising? That’s not the half of it. The Czech Republic team had plenty of ammo, not just Stybar. The Czech team placed four riders in the top ten—Martin Bina in fourth, Martin Zlamalik in sixth and second-generation ‘crosser Radomir Simunek in eighth. As a result, the Czech Republic and Belgium accounted for seven of the top-ten spots.
Post-race Nys said he had to admit that retirement age loomed for him and the other riders of his generation. But is this the end of Belgian dominance in cyclocross? Hardly; in taking the other two podium spots, the Belgian team shows depth and consistency. The real story is that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the emergence of the Czech Republic as a cyclocross superpower, a team prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Belgians and the Dutch.