What a day! Great racing, great weather, great course and mud, finally! It’s all summed up in this couple of words but there is more to it, of course.
The day started obscenely early for me, I left London around 4:15am and it took me almost 6 hours to get to Essen, so I was pretty tired by the time I got here. However, the sun was shining and the course was very, very muddy, so conditions were perfect for a great day.
The muddy shots started with the U23’s race for me, there was a plethora of angles that offered big splashes, concentrating faces and loads of mud. What’s not to love? The women’s race saw a very strong Marianne Vos winning the race and some great performances, namely Nikki Harris, who bagged another podium place and Gabby Day, who finished 7th after a very strong start. Well done ladies.
However, trouble struck: I lost one of the PocketWizards! Very bad news as a single unit costs £180, so apart from the annoyance, it’s also a quite expensive mistake to make. I was about to backtrack my steps in the vain hope that I might find it somewhere on the ground, when fellow photographer Derrick (I hope I spelled his name right) stopped me and gave me the missing unit! Whoop-whoop! My hope in humanity has been restored once again.
The other outstanding moment of the day was Bart Wellens’ win. He is one of my favourite riders and it was very hard to see him struggling since the beginning of the season, especially the recurring medical problems. He opted to sit out a couple of races and with the help of Sven Nys’ rear mech, he won the race with great racing. The last fifteen minutes of the race was unique, I have never seen anything like this: the crowd, regardless who they support normally, roared, shouted and cheered at Wellens in unison when he rode past. It gave me goosebumps and he was appropriately emotional when he crossed the finish line. While his supporters’ club isn’t as popular as it used to be, he was cheered on the podium by all the fans – acknowledging a great rider’s exceptional performance.
Tomorrow is the next World Cup in Namur – rumor in the press centre has it that there is thick snow but no one knows if it was to stay or not. We’ll see tomorrow.
The bikes are ready to get dirty.
Prior to the race, it was raining all week in Belgium, so the upper layer of the ground was very muddy - the sunshine was just an added bonus.
Wietse Bosmans has had his fair share of accidents and technical mishaps this season - and unfortunately he was a victim of yet another mechanical. He seemed unbeatable throughout the race, there was a comfortable gap between him and the chasers but in the very last lap he dropped his chain and lost so much time to put it back that the eventual winner, Tijmen Eising caught up with him and ended up winning the race.
When someone moves up an age category, it's always interesting to see how they get on. Tijmen Eising won the Worlds back in 2009 and then moved up to the U23s. He spent a rather uneventful year last year and this year's results hasn't been too strong so far either. He had a couple of top 10 finishes, but that's about it. Today was different, however. He rode strong from the start and with a little bit of luck, he bagged his first ever win. Looking forward to see how he will perform for the rest of the season.
Sophie De Boer leads the race in the first lap.
The more powerful than ever Marianne Vos didn't leave anything to chance and soon put a sizeable gap between her and the rest of the field and rode from then on at her own pace.
Daphny Van Den Brand (l) and Christine Vardaros (r)
It seems that Gabby Day's great performance last week was just a precursor for further great results. After spending the first half of the race in the top four, she got a bit tired and finished 7th eventually, but it's another great, top10 result from her.
Marianne Vos, seconds after finishing the race.
Daphny Van Den Brand finished 4th, 2min33sec down on Vos.
The exhausted face of Monique Van De Ree.
Niels Albert had to sit out many races in the last four weeks, since he injured his wrist in a collision with a car. This was his first race since and he showed ample strength when he went straight after Sven Nys and Wellens when they broke away from the rest of the field.
Black mud - this photo reminds me of all pictures of poor birds, covered in oil after an oil tanker catastrophe.
Wellens kept riding strong as the race progressed. His pursuiters included Nys and Albert.
Rob Peeters showed great form today by finishing third. He's been riding consistently strong for the last couple of weeks, it would be great to see him winning eventually!
Sven Nys took the lead in the last third of the race and he seemed to have a solid lead but then a mechanical forced him to quit the race. As he admitted after the race, this is a technical sport, so mechanical failure is part of it, too.
Zdenek Stybar is off-balance - and not just on the photo. Hi sat out the races last weekend to get some rest but he soon dropped out of the top ten and soon he abandoned the race altogether.
When Nys was forced to abandon the race, it became obvious that Wellens would won the race unless something similar happened to him. He has had a couple of rough seasons behind him, so he support he got from the spectators, regardless of who they supported normally, was overwhelming, the crowd created a wonderful and unique atmosphere.
And he's done it. The GVA Essen is in the bag. Well done, Bartje!
Wellens' understandibly happy mechanic.
Wellens' understandibly muddy bike.
Luc is normally a Tom Meeusen supporter, but he was very happy to see Wellens winning. What I really liked about him was that he was also shouting 'Well done' to Albert, acknowledging his result.
I rarely post here podium photos, I find them very boring and not too interesting, but today is special - Bart Wellens seemed to be deeply moved when he was given his award.