He's back! 'Ol Flamingo Legs is back. Vantornout stayed with the lead group all race before making his move on the last lap, winning by eight seconds from Tom Meeusen. It is his second win in the Belgian championships.
The first lap was fast, or as fast as it could be, bogged down as the riders were in the Erpe-Mere mud. Riders were shed by the dozen as Pauwels and Van Aert both tried their luck. They were brought back, however, on a lap which lasted over eleven minutes!
On the second lap Van Aert tried again, accompanied, unusually but briefly, by Sunweb's Tim Merlier. But who was that in the background, chewing up the distance between himself and Van Aert? It was Sven Nys, who himself was pursued by cheers from the crowd, deafening cheers. By the third lap, he had caught his quarry, and immediately attacked. In response to this attack, somehow, Van Aert lost his chain! He lost time, but quickly recovered, and stayed in the second group.
By now, Nys was in the lead, from a group containing Vantornout, Van Aert, and most of the other favourites. Vantornout thought this was a threat to him for some reason, and set off in pursuit. Before the end of the lap, it was a group of two in front, with Van Aert and Peeters third and fourth, eleven seconds behind.
On lap four, Vantornout tried to assert his authority on the race, attacking Nys, but unable to shake him off. The stop-start nature of the duo's pace allowed the Vastgoedservice riders to catch up. By this point, the riders seemed to have realised that they had twenty-five minutes left to ride, and eased off the breakneck pace.
Lap five was one of the slowest of the race, as the top six regrouped, and bar a small dig from Pauwels and Meeusen, they were setting up for a big last lap. Vantornout, Van Aert, Peeters, Meeusen, Pauwels and Nys were all together, each on a hair trigger, waiting for hostilities to open. And they were indeed opened! Peeters was the first to have a go, getting a small gap, but never out of sight. He was followed by Vantornout and team-mate Van Aert. They caught up, and Vantornout took over the lead by the run-up. He went quickly through the next series of corners, but stumbled on his bike up a steep and - more importantly - narrow ramp. This fall didn't cost him time or position, far from it, as he held up Van Aert, who had to stop quicklt to avoid hitting Vantornout, and agonisingly slowly fell off his bike. This put Vantornout in the lead by over ten seconds, with Meeusen in second place, with the Vastgoedservice riders left shaking their heads.
Vantornout rode out the final half lap with calm aplomb, never looking like losing. He crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Meeusen to take the Belgian championship for the second time in three years, putting his hands to his face in disbelief as he crossed the line. Favourite Van Aert, after an eventful, and undeniably unlucky race, finished third, fifteen seconds behind.
"I am immensely surprised," said the new champion. "I do not get it. I was so ill the past few weeks. What I've been through, I don't wish on anyone. For now let me enjoy this beautiful jersey, I cannot believe it." Nor can many fans; Vantornout has not shown any of today's form since coming second in Milton Keynes in November.
Van Aert, however, is very disappointed. The championships is the only thing that counts, The race went as I wanted until I got unlucky. The chain broke." As of Tabor, he says: "Tabor is still far away, i was busy all the time with this championship and that has seriously failed. I have to deal with this first." Will he ride Elite? The answer appears to still be "maybe."
Interesting was the length of the race, One hour and ten minutes is very long for a 'cross race. This may have contributed in Vantornout's victory, endurance is very much his forte.
All in all, a fantastic day of racing, culminating in a worthy winner.