Perhaps you’ve heard these names before: Van Avermaet, Van Aert, Vanmarcke, Gilbert, Teuns, Stuyven, Lampaert, Wellens…the list goes on and on. These are the most well-known Belgian names in men’s cycling, and just four years ago, Oliver Naesen was not quite among them. A number of podium placings in smaller races and a big win at the 2016 Bretagne Classic–Ouest-France promised plenty of potential, but Naesen was looking for a more. With less than a week until the start of the Tour de France and riders beginning a four-week wave of peak form, now was the perfect opportunity.
The Belgian national championships is touted as one of the hardest one-day races in professional cycling. Men hard as nails routinely rip each other apart over 200km of cobblestones, crosswinds, and Belgian farm roads. Add in the history and pride of Belgian cycling, and it’s like watching a 100-person boxing match at 50 kph.
By the end, perhaps 20 or 30 men remain, sprinting to the line after more than five hours in the saddle for the coveted Belgian stripes. In 2019, it was Tim Merlier (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice Continental Team) who upset the WorldTour favorites to win the title. But back in 2017, then 26-year-old Oliver Naesen (AG2R-LaMondiale) won the Belgian National Championship out of a breakaway filled with classics superstars.
We took a look back at Naesen’s power file from the 2017 Belgian National Championships Elite Men’s Road Race, the day when “it finally all came together,” for the budding Belgian.
Rider: Oliver Naesen
Height: 1.84 m (6 ft)
Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs.)
Distance: 238 km (147.5 miles)
Average Speed: 43.8 kph (27.2 mph)
Elevation Gain: 387 m (1270 ft.)
Total Work: 4883 kJs
Average Power: 250w (3.5w/kg)
Weighted Average Power: 291w (4.04w/kg)
Max Power: 1268w
Average Heart Rate: 136 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 176 bpm
137 Belgian men rolled out of the main square in Antwerp, facing fourteen laps of a 17 km circuit for a total of 238 km. A 1.5 km cobblestone section on the backside of the circuit would serve as the main challenge of each lap – apart from the legs of the world’s burliest Belgian cyclists.
The short and technical nature of the course meant that average power is not the truest reflection of the riders’ efforts. Each rider’s normalized power was likely 30 to 50 watts higher than their average, upgrading Naesen’s numbers from impressive to mind-boggling.
In the early stages of the race, a breakaway went away containing Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal), Jonas Rickaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Kevyn Ista (WB-Veranclassic-Aqua Protect). The trio led by seven minutes as they approached the midpoint of the race, but their time gap began to tumble as riders from BMC and Quick-Step began attacking the field.
While the breakaway’s time gap made the peloton looks lackadaisical, Naesen’s efforts from the first 32 kilometers of the race show that it was no walk in the park.
First 1.5 laps
Avg Power: 286w (4w/kg)
Max Power: 1153w
Avg Heart Rate: 145 bpm
Avg Speed: 46 kph (28.6 mph)
Peak 5-min effort:
Avg Power: 368w (5.1w/kg)
While these numbers are nothing crazy (yet), keep in mind that this is the first 32 of 238km.
For the next three hours, the race was relatively easy. With the break having gone, Naesen sat calmly in the field while awaiting the explosive finale. Lap after lap goes by, and Naesen’s heart rate even dipped below 100 bpm a few times.
Calm middle section
Avg Power: 214w (3.0w/kg)
Max Power: 1090w
Avg Heart Rate: 128 bpm
Steady efforts from the peloton brought back the breakaway with 57 km to go, and attacks immediately began to fly from some of the top Classics riders in the world. Breakaways of one, two, and even five riders muscled off the front, but the field kept them in check. Naesen himself tried a move through a set of technical corners, hitting over 1000 watts twice in 10 seconds, and holding nearly 700 watts for 30 seconds. But the AG2R rider was closely marked, and Naesen quickly backed off his attack.
As the peloton comes motoring past the gantry into the penultimate lap, it’s groupo compacto.
Final 57 km
Avg Power: 329w (4.6w/kg)
Avg Speed: 47.5 kph (29.5 mph)
Avg Heart Rate: 154 bpm
With less than 35 km to go, the elastic was about the snap. In just a matter of moments, Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) made a move off the front with a few others, a second group quickly came across, and just like that, a lead group of fourteen riders was formed. In the lead are Naesen, Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Tim Merlier (Willems Veranda’s-Crelan), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC) and Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step).
On the penultimate passage of cobbles, a group of five – Naesen, Stuyven, Vanmarcke, Van Hooydonck, and Keukeleire – pulls away from the rest.
Avg Power: 505w (7.0w/kg)
The group of five worked well together, rotating evenly and refraining from attacks until the final rumble over the cobblestones. With every attack coming from Vanmarcke and Van Hooydonck, Naesen was equal to it, closing down most of the attacks on his own, and looking calm, cool, and collected with less than 4 km to go.
Avg Power: 515w (7.2w/kg)
With 1.5 km to go, Vanmarcke attacked up the right-hand side of the road, and despite Naesen having just pulled a turn, the AG2R rider put his head down and began to chase. After halving the gap, Naesen lets Stuyven finish the job, and it all is back together with just a kilometer to go.
Vanmarcke opens up the sprint with less than 300 meters to go, coming from the back of the group and getting the jump on the others. Naesen was the quickest to react, and does his best to hop onto Vanmarcke’s wheel, but the AG2R rider was still struggling to close the gap with the line only 100 meters away. Naesen dug deep just as Vanmarcke began to fade, and the Cannondale-Drapac rider suddenly sees Naesen pulling alongside him with 30 meters to go. With one last throw of the bike, Naesen’s wheel crossed the finish line first, and he posts up with a look of “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” on his face. Naesen throws his sunglasses and helmet off with a flamboyant celebration, before finally coasting to a stop as the newly crowned Belgian national champion.
Avg Power: 359w (5.0w/kg)
Avg Speed: 47.8 kph (29.7 mph)
Avg Power: 1065w (14.8w/kg)
Max Power: 1268w (17.6w/kg)
Max Speed: 67.4 kph (41.8 mph)
Strava ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/1054580354
ProCyclingStats results: https://www.procyclingstats.com/race/nc-belgium/2017/result