What a day! Today’s race has clearly been the best race so far this season. First of all, there was mud, deep, runny, omnipresent mud. It was raining all day long, hard, cold, unforgiving rain. Secondly, great racing all across the board, especially the men’s race was tough and we didn’t know who was going to win until the very last minute – and beyond. Thirdly, we will remember the Stybar-induced crash for a long time.
The weather was atrocious, which is something I normally cherish but today I had to discover that my kit just wasn’t waterproof anymore and I spent a good part of the afternoon feeling cold, wet and miserable. On the other hand, I love this kind of weather because it’s ideal for shooting cross, it’s so easy to get those heroic shots of the riders splashing mud left, right and centre.
Another disappointing thing were my cameras. It was so dark that I had to use very low shutter speeds, way below my comfort zone and I’m just not happy with the quality of my photos – not composition-wise but the actual pixel quality. It’s just not good enough. I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and invest into a better camera.
And now back to the racing. Only when I got to the start a few minutes before the start did I realise that Katerina Nash was going to ride today. I really like her, she is lovely person and a great rider so I was expecting a fierce battle for the first place. Given how illustrious the line-up was, it was interesting to see that the young Sanne Cant beat both Nash (although she has had a mechanical in the last lap) and the tough British duo of Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris.
Oh, and Gabby Day finished fourth, another great result from her. All this was a great prelude to the coming big races and the World Champs, it will be interesting to see how all these riders will fare this year against the often invincible Marianne Vos.
Then the men’s race started. The big news was, of course, Zdenek Stybar. The two-time world champion was going to ride only a few races this this season, as a part of his preparation for the road season. Prior to the race, he had been very modest, emphasising that his main focus was the 2013 road season. So it was quite surprising to see him at the front after Lap #1. Then Klaas Vantornout attacked early – that’s not surprising. I also saw Jan Denuwelaere in the front group – also not too surprising. Four laps in – Stybar still in the front and so is Denuwelaere, Nys and Albert are nowhere to be seen – highly unusual, and so was the rest of the race.
We saw some great racing by Stybar, Denuwelaere, Rob Peeter, Klaas Vantornout and Niels Albert and it was refreshing to something else other than the usual Sven Nys – Niels Albert duel. Having heard Stybar’s modest interviews, it was surprising that he was leading the front pack as they crossed the finish line to start the last lap.
When the riders arrived at the beginning of the finishing straight, all I saw was two, incredibly muddy cyclists, riding flat-out towards us and I only realised it was Stybar and Denuwelaere because the PA excitedly shouted their names.
The rest I only saw through the viewfinder of my camera and I wasn’t sure what had actually happened, so I reviewed the frames I shot and that it was then when I realised that Stybar simply pushed Denuwelaere onto the barriers, who still managed to slide across the finish line at second place. Things were put right not much later, Denuwelaere became the winner, Stybar relegated into fourth and Stybar profoundly apologising publicly on Twitter.
As I said at the beginning: what a race! Mud, rain, drama and crashes – and this is only the first race of a full week of racing! Tomorrow, it’s the fifth round of the World Cup in Namur, one of my favourite race venues and the line up will be formidable, so don’t forget to check back tomorrow for photos.