Welcome to the season-opening race of Belgian mega-cross, the GP Mario De Clercq, held on a hillside in Ronse. This is one of the more interesting courses of the year, and it kicks off the thoroughly interesting (strange?) BPost Bank competition. Remember the timing system which they use at BPost to determine the overall leader? Here are the basics:
- Each race will have time bonuses, one intermediate and one at the finish, with deductions of 15, 10 and 5 seconds for the top three.
- Skipping any one race results in a five minute penalty, e.g. the time of the winner plus five minutes, added to your running tally.
- No rider may lose more than five minutes, however, in a race. If you blow a gasket and finish 8' down, or get sick, it's the same as not taking the start: winning time + 5'.
Last year things got off to a, um, colorful start where Niels Albert won the race but Kevin Pauwels walked away from Ronse with the overall lead, thanks to taking the intermediate sprint and by staying close enough to Albert at the finish. In the end, however, Albert won last year's BPost Bank competition by more than seven minutes, prompting a relative yawn at the format (from me, at least).
Anyway, back to Ronse. Here are some descriptions from last year:
It's only the third edition, but this race has already captured the heart of many a cx fan. Or maybe it's just me, that could be the case also. It's raced on the Hotondberg (highest 'mountain' of the province of Oost-Vlaanderen, at a whopping 145 metres). The hill is its main feature, but the race uses it well. Also, when it rains Ronse is hilarious. Plus, there's this awesome ridge. The GVA-leg in Ronse also goes by the name GP Mario De Clercq, after the Sunweb DS. So Pauwels and KVT should do well here. Theoretically.
The real action comes in the descents -- steep, off-camber affairs on the grassy hillside. The climbing will wear people down, but the spills on the way down will be what we remember most. Who can forget Klaas Vantournout's header (pictured above) into the audience last year? Not Klaas. Or me. Last year's race can be recapped here:
2012 Top Five:
- Niels Albert
- Kevin Pauwels, at 0.04
- Sven Nys, at 1.07
- Bart Aernouts, at 1.22
- Klaas Vantournout, at 1.52
This year's event...
The usual trio of Nys, Albert and Pauwels will figure prominently here, as they routinely do. But Vantournout finished up very strong last year, and it'll be interesting to see if he can resume kicking ass. Also of interest is Lars van der Haar. Still just 22, the kid was looking better and better as the season wore on, and being smaller you'd think the climby course might favor him a bit. But I wouldn't raise the expectations bar on him too quickly.
Forecast shows rain all day for Ronse Sunday. The Cross Gods are smiling on us. Really, this will be terrific fun. And it'll be on Sporza, probably still not georestricted. Enjoy!