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Alasdair Fotheringham

2023 European Cyclo-cross Championships: Michael Vanthourenhout wins elite men's race

Michael Vanthourenhout wins the European championships (Image credit: Getty Images)
Michael Vanthourenhout dominated in the terrible conditions (Image credit: Getty Images)
Cameron Mason (Great Britain) chasing in second (Image credit: Getty Images)
Pim Ronhaar (Netherlands) (Image credit: Getty Images)
Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) (Image credit: Getty Images)
Michael Vanthourenhout on the first lap (Image credit: Getty Images)
The opening lap in Pontchateau (Image credit: Getty Images)
Eli Iserbyt leads into the climb (Image credit: Getty Images)
Eli Iserbyt didn't enjoy the heavy conditions (Image credit: Getty Images)
Cameron Mason celebrates a remarkable achievement (Image credit: Getty Images)
Joran Wyseure is stretchered off the course (Image credit: Getty Images)
European champion Michael Vanthourenhout (Image credit: Getty Images)

Brutally difficult weather conditions could not stop Michael Vanthourenhout from defending his title in the 2023 European Cyclocross elite men's race.

Vanthourenhout battled through torrential rain showers and deep mud to claim his title ahead of outsider Cameron Mason (Great Britain). Another top favourite, Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) clinched bronze.

The Belgian took off early on the technical, twisting course in Pont-Château, rendered even more difficult by the terrible weather.

But despite coming under notable pressure from Mason in the final lap, Vanthourenhout successfully stayed away to claim Belgium's second gold medal in the 2023 Europeans by just seven seconds.

"The season was not going well, but after the [mid-week] Koppenbergcross race I felt very storm, so today was my day. From the beginning, I felt like I had good legs, and I went full from start to finish, and it was enough to take the victory," the 29-year-old Belgian said afterwards.

"I'm very happy with this [jersey] unfortunately I'm also Belgian [cyclocross] champion so it's a little bit difficult. But being European Champion for a second time in a row is also very good."

The eight-man Belgian team made their intentions clear very early on the rain-drenched course, pushing hard from the get-go and trying to limit the options of their arch-rivals, the Dutch. First Laurens Sweeck made the running in the opening segments of the first lap before former winner Eli Iserbyt moved to the front, and then Vanthourenhout made his notably early challenge.

The defending champion slowly eked open a gap on a 15-strong group, where the Dutch and Spanish attempted to keep the Belgian's margin from increasing too far.

However, Vanthourenhout's teammates Iserbyt and Witse Meussen were blocking beautifully at the front of the chasing pack and by the end of the second lap of eight their combined efforts meant his gap had increased to over 20 seconds. It was only when a brief, unexpected counter-attack by Mason on lap 3 that the gap slowly reduced and the strongest chasers emerged.

In a brutally wet weekend, yet more rain mid-race rendered a hard event even harder, and Iserbyt, Dutchman Pim Ronhaar and double former Euro champion Van der Haar closed in on Mason in his lone pursuit of Vanthourenhout. The gap decreased briefly as Vanthourenhout encountered some difficulty negotiating some of the deeper, muddier ruts. But by the halfway point, he was still out there, 16 seconds ahead and his options remained intact.

Van der Haar then opted to pile on the pressure, instantly putting Iserbyt in difficulties and prompting Belgian trainer Sven Nys to shout at his rider to try and hold the wheel. Iserbyt was unable to do so, though,  reportedly because of an untimely puncture, and the alarm bells began ringing in the Belgian camp as Van der Haar's powerful lone pursuit began.

Almost immediately afterwards, though, a near-crash for the Dutchman saw Mason overtake him and made it harder to predict if any of the chasers could actually bridge across to the lone leader.

Mud and torrential rain rendered the riders increasingly unrecognizable and made staying upright as much of a challenge as actual racing. Perhaps as a result of such tough conditions,  things stayed steady, with Vanthourenhout maintaining his gap of 18 seconds on Mason and 21 on Van der Haar with two laps to go. A second crash for Van der Haar, as he slid out on a corner, did not improve matters for the Dutchman and as the bell rang, Vanthourenhout was still in control.

A bronze medallist in the U23 Euros a few years back, with the Dutch in difficulties it was up to a relatively new contender like Mason to try to put Belgium under pressure. The Scot made one last effort to regain contact on the last lap, but Vanthourenhout was able to maintain his winning margin all the way to the line.

Behind him, Mason powered on towards the first elite men's podium finish for a non-Belgian or Dutch rider in the European Championships -  defeated, but nonetheless visibly satisfied at going the distance on a very tough day of racing and with a landmark result to celebrate at the end of it.


Results powered by FirstCycling

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