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By Charles Pelkey
It was a hat trick, but not quite the hat trick some might have predicted at the beginning of the year.
Dutchman Lars Boom scored his third world cyclocross title Sunday, adding an elite gold medal to the junior title he earned in 2003 and the U23 rainbow jersey he scored at last year’s world’s in Belgium.
His Rabobank teammate, Sven Nys, however, had to settle for third, missing out on an impressive triple of his own — a world title to add to his World Cup crown and the Belgian national championship — losing a sprint for second to Czech rider Zdenek Stybar.
Boom came to Treviso, Italy, on the heels of strong wins in the final two rounds of the UCI cyclocross World Cup in Liévin, France, and Hoogerheide, the Netherlands, giving Nys a run for his money on that series title as well.
To many, including former world champion Adri Van der Poel – the man who designed the course in Treviso – Boom came in as the odds-on favorite this weekend, after Nys’s post-Belgian championship decline.
“He doesn’t know how to focus his season,” said Van der Poel. “Every time he lines up, he rides to win with no thought of the future.”
And Nys himself had spent the week resting rather than training, in anticipation of a big battle for the rainbow jersey.
Boom took charge early in the race, hitting the first critical turn on the course in prime position and working to establish an early lead. But unlike the morning’s women’s race or Saturday’s U23 event, Boom was not able to jump away for a solo ride to the finish. In a tightly matched field, Boom fought hard just to stay at the front as a big bunch of more than 30 riders hit the steep slopes of the decisive 26-percent climb at the 1km mark.
Unlike competitors in the weekend’s other events, most of the leading 10 men actually rode the climb, while those mired in traffic were forced to run. The time difference was negligible, however, and that leading group of 30 – including Americans Jonathan Page and Tim Johnson – stayed together for much of the nine-lap race.
Boom said that after his early dig he realized that he wouldn’t be able to make a move until late in the race.
“At that point, I decided my best chance was to stay as close to the front as I could and react to attacks,” he said.
Those attacks came throughout the race, with strong performances by Frenchman Francis Mourey, Italians Marco Fontana and Enrico Franzoi, as well as the usual collection of suspects from Belgium, including Nys, defending world champion Erwin Vervecken and former world champion Bart Wellens.
But Boom stayed calm throughout, monitoring the front and, with the frequent assistance of compatriot Richard Groenendaal, calmly pulling back escapees and keeping the field tight, with around 15 to 20 riders, even in the latter portions of the race.
On the backside of the penultimate lap, Mourey, who had won a World Cup on this same course in 2006, crashed on a descent, taking Wellens down with him. The Belgian recovered, but the Frenchman pulled out after hitting a barrier.
Up front, Stybar tried his luck at a late attack, but again Boom and Co. neutralized the effort and it was a large group of 15 riders that charged up the 150-meter rise to the finish area to begin the last lap. It was then that Groenendaal launched a blistering attack that fractured the field, with Boom following close on his wheel.
The gap gave Boom an opportunity, on which he fully capitalized. The young Dutchman stepped up his pace and extended his advantage to 25 meters. Vervecken chased, with Nys – Boom’s Rabobank teammate – on his wheel. Behind Nys, Stybar – a member of Vervecken’s Fidea squad – gave chase as well. As Vervecken faded, Nys and Stybar moved ahead, but Boom had already extended his advantage, cresting the big climb just as his closest pursuers were reaching the base.
“I was not certain of anything until the very end, though,” Boom said. “I kept looking back to see who was chasing and how close they might be. It wasn’t until I looked over my shoulder the last time (15 meters from the finish) that I knew I had it.”
Nys said that commercial team considerations didn’t play as big a role as they did in 2000, when Groenendaal won the world title because – at least as Belgian fans claimed – Nys refused to chase his then-Rabobank teammate at all.
“I was at my limit when Groenendaal went,” Nys explained. “I had tried attacks – perhaps too many – today, and I was not able to follow when Lars then went off on his own. I stayed with Vervecken until he faded and put in a big effort. Losing the sprint for second, I think, shows I put in a big effort trying to chase.”
When asked whether the win by the much younger Boom represented a “generational change,” the 31-year-old Nys smiled and noted that “I am not so old that I can’t win a few world championships in the next five years.”
Page, meanwhile, rolled across the line 41 seconds behind the day’s winner. Despite that relatively close time gap, his 23rd spot is testament to how tight the race was throughout. The world’s silver medalist in 2007 said he was disappointed by his performance.
“Sure, I was up there close, but it was a big field and the difference between being in third position in that bunch and yo-yo-ing off the back was huge,” he said. “I didn’t feel so good today and I’m not at all happy with the way things went for me today.”
Page, who secured a contract with SunWeb largely on the strength of his second-place finish at last year’s world’s race, said his inability to land top spots in early season races created a lot of tension between him and his sponsor.
“It was bad all around and I am ready to end that deal as soon as I can,” he said. “I’d actually hoped to do better today in part so I could tell these guys to shove it with a strong ride at world’s behind me.”
Page said he plans to return to the U.S. and tackle the domestic road season, and then return to Belgium in the fall for ‘cross.
“I hope I can put together my own collection of sponsors, like I did in the past,” he said. “I always feel more comfortable in a situation like that, for sure.”
Johnson, the U.S. national champion, finished in 26th at 1:02, but was quite happy with his performance.
“It was great being up there in the mix all day,” he said. “I was actually surprised, but it was almost impossible to make up that difference… to come up from the back and fight it out up front was not possible. Those guys kept the hammer down all day.”
World cyclocross championship
Treviso, Italy, January 27, 2008
1. Lars Boom (Netherlands), at 1:05:27
2. Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic), at 0:05
3. Sven Nys (Belgium), at 0:06
4. Erwin Vervecken (Belgium), at 0:09
5. Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic), at 0:10
6. Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy), at 0:10
7. Sven Vanthourenhout (Belgium), at 0:10
8. Christian Heule (Switzerland), at 0:12
9. John Gadret (France), at 0:12
10. Klaas Vantornout (Belgium), at 0:12
11. Kevin Pauwels (Belgium), at 0:18
12. Richard Groenendaal (Netherlands), at 0:18
13. Enrico Franzoi (Italy), at 0:19
14. Bart Aernouts (Belgium), at 0:20
15. Bart Wellens (Belgium), at 0:21
16. Simon Zahner (Switzerland), at 0:22
17. Gerben De Knegt (Netherlands), at 0:27
18. Marek Cichosz (Poland), at 0:27
19. Milan Barenyi (Slovakia), at 0:28
20. Wilant Van Gils (Netherlands), at 0:31
21. Marco Bianco (Italy), at 0:37
22. Isaac Suarez Fernandez (Spain), at 0:40
23. Jonathan Page (United States Of America), at 0:41
24. Steve Chainel (France), at 0:49
25. José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain), at 1:00
26. Timothy Johnson (United States Of America), at 1:02
27. Jeremy Powers (United States Of America), at 1:11
28. David Derepas (France), at 1:19
29. Pirmin Lang (Switzerland), at 1:26
30. Dieter Vanthourenhout (Belgium), at 1:37
31. Malte Urban (Germany), at 1:51
32. Kamil Ausbuher (Czech Republic), at 2:07
33. Alessandro Gambino (Italy), at 2:24
34. Robert Glajza (Slovakia), at 2:24
35. Luca Damiani (Italy), at 2:30
36. Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez (Spain), at 2:34
37. Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland), at 2:41
38. Finn Heitmann (Germany), at 2:52
39. Maros Kovac (Slovakia), at 3:24
40. Magnus Darvel (Sweden), at 3:25
41. Nicolas Bazin (France), at 3:36
42. Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg), at 3:46
43. Julien Belgy (France), at 4:02
44. Thijs Al (Netherlands), at 4:09
45. Michael Muller (Switzerland), at 4:20
46. Mariusz Gil (Poland), at 4:21
47. René Birkenfeld (Germany), at 4:32
48. Mike Garrigan (Canada), at 4:33
49. Johannes Sickmueller (Germany), at 4:36
50. Vaclav Metlicka (Slovakia), at 4:45
51. Robert Jebb (Great Britain), at 4:45
52. Paul Oldham (Great Britain), at 4:54
53. Fredrik Ericsson (Sweden), at 5:10
54. Joachim Parbo (Denmark), at 5:20
55. Unai Yus Kerejeta (Spain), at 5:57
56. Aaron Schooler (Canada), at 6:45
57. Keiichi Tsujiura (Japan), at 7:16
58. Jens Westergren (Sweden), at 7:39
59. Osmond Bakker (Canada), at 7:39
60. Zdenek Mlynar (Czech Republic), at -1LAP
61. Martin Vestby (Norway), at -2LAP
62. Masanori Kosaka (Japan), at -3LAP
DNF. Francis Mourey (France)
DNF. Maarten Nijland (Netherlands)