Facts and features from within the company!
WELCOME TO ESSEN
A sullen wintry Saturday in December is, of course, the best way to experience the Cross. In fact, some might say it’s the only way to experience it. This particular Saturday, the 10th, a caravan of brightly decorated motor-homes descends on the sleepy Flanders town of Essen, right on the border with the Netherlands.
Wisps of greasy smoke surround the frituur, cold beers and hot coffees exchange hands rapidly. Crowds of solely connaisseurs, who know every rider by their first name — and probably their birthdays too — look for a good place along the course. Plodding ankle deep in the glutinous mud, sliding around while trying to balance six Jupilers and four trays of friet, the excitement is building. Inside the motor-homes, legs are being rubbed warm while mechanics scrutinize every last piece of gear and managers patrol the course to scout for tricky parts. This is an often forgotten, grey corner of Flanders, but today it is the arena where the world’s best CX riders come to scrap it out.
Eli Iserbyt, reigning U23 world champion has the perfect name to become a Flandrien. A name that conjures up images of ancient lowland warriors, men willing to give it all, upon whom the cold has no grip, men of hardworking creed.The blood of the clans that Julius Caesar himself once referred to as ‘the bravest of the three peoples of Gaul’ must somehow still run in the veins of the riders that have gathered here in the cold morning.
The anticipation keeps building up to the start of the Men’s Elite race. Back in the warmth of their campers, riders get dressed, rub oil on the legs and go over tactics one more time. Outside, the supporters mill around to find an even better spot alongside the track. Local boy Tom Meeusen had this race marked on his calender for weeks. Unfortunately for him, soon after the start he crashes on the obstacles and ends up chasing the pack. Mathieu van der Poel crashes into a fence after already having had a flat. Luck is not on his side this day. The other local lad, Kevin Pauwels, has a very solid race and manages to follow the wheel of world champion Wout van Aert the longest. In the end though, Wout decides to unleash his devils and go all out; he rides to victory solo. The world champion set the pace with great confidence and he lived up to the expectations, again.
Post-race, it’s back on the rollers under the dreary expanse of a leaden Flanders sky. There is no glamour to be found in this part of the world, but the supporters have returned to their homes thankful and happy. And then, just when you’re ready to call it a day, up rolls the legend of CX himself. Sven Nys, just stopping by for a quick chat and some words of encouragement that make it all worthwhile. “Well done my boy, keep it up.”