February 04, 2013 (Louisville,Kentucky) – The U23 Men’s race treated Louisville fans at the 2013 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships to a comeback battle between Netherlands’ rider Mike Teunissen in a tight race with Belgian stud Wietse Bosmans. Teunissen, who suffered an early crash but recovered well, crossed the finish line first becoming the third member of the Dutch team to win gold. Earlier in the day Mathieu Van der Poel won the Junior men’s race while Marianne Vos topped the Elite women’s field.
While Michael Van Den Ham was the top Canadian espoir, finishing in 31st place, it was Canadian U23 CX champ, Evan McNeely, who showed he had the best legs of the Canadian team on the day. But a late crash with two laps to go took McNeely out of contention despite his best efforts to work his way back through the pack.
“I’ve never done a cyclo-cross race of this calibre ever before,” McNeely told Pedal post-race. “It was definitely a great experience especially with so many Canadians going down to cheer, the atmosphere was ecstatic! No doubt I was nervous on the start line, but I tried to stay calm by picturing it as a start of a local Ottawa cross race.”
The conditions had remained firm and frozen for the morning races but it got greasy and muddy for the afternoon contests. The main battle for the U23 title was between the powerful Dutch and Belgian teams from the gun with Teunissen getting the jump at the first bend. A powerful performance by Bosmans got him into the lead and Teunissen was the only one to stay with him by the second lap. It was still a sea of blue and orange at the front of the race.
Teunissen had to overcome a slip up just before the start of the 3rd lap on a tricky bit of off-camber about 13 minutes into the race. It cost him 7 seconds by the time they crossed the line to finish that lap and it set up an intense duel with Bosmans as they had five more laps. By the time they hit four laps to go Teunissen was in 6th and 19 seconds back.
McNeely was in 30th at this point in the race while Van Den Ham was 34th. Andrew L’Esperance was in 38th and Conor O’Brien sat 41st. American Zach McDonald was in about 10th as the top North American. By the end of this lap Teunissen had made up much of the gap and was sitting in second with only 6 seconds to Bosmans.
“Louisville got a dusting of snow over-night and as it melted the course got slick very fast while some of the ruts remained frozen. The conditions, no matter how fun, were hard for me to deal with after coming off an indoor trainer regime the month leading in,” continued the Canadian U23 CX champ. “I felt a little rusty handling the bike in transitions, even though I got to race the weekend before to work out the bugs.”
Bosmans had the lead throughout much of the race, then it came down to a race between him and his Dutch rival two for the final few laps. McNeely continued to make his way through the field and moved up to 26th at 2:09 off the lead. By the start of the penultimate lap Bosmans, Teunissen and Van Aert were clear and preparing to decide the podium.
When Teunissen caught up he sat on Bosmans’ wheel and then attacked at the start of the final lap. Bosmans could not respond and would finish with the silver medal at 16 seconds back as his teammate Wout Van Aert grabbed the bronze at a further eight seconds back.
After Teunissen’s crash earlier in the race, the young Dutchman thought his chance for the gold was over, but with a strong chase he caught Bosmans and decided to challenge him. “I put the pressure on and kept attacking. The last lap I just went full blast and I managed to get some meters and I knew by the end that the gap was increasing. It is awesome. Two years ago I was very close and almost got the jersey, and now two years later I finally got it,” said the winner.
McNeely had the best position at call up in the third row but couldn’t take advantage of it. He fought his way through the race and was holding on to what could possibly have been a top twenty position if he’d been able to finish the race.
Van Den Ham loves to race in mud and his face and kit were plastered in it well before the race was over. He rode a steady race, avoiding any issues and ended up five minutes and 17 seconds off the winning time in 31st. He was happy with his performance though. Teammates L’Esperance finished in 35th place and O’Brien finished two laps down in 38th.
For Van den Ham the race went as well as he had hoped considering that it was his first at this level. “Being Canadian and not having a pile of UCI points I started second last call-up or third last. I didn’t have a great start but people were crashing all over the place,” explained Van den Ham. “It was pretty muddy and slick and it kept on getting worse as the race went on. It seemed like the key to doing well wasn’t attacking but just riding your bike well and not making too many mistakes and not having any technical issues.”
The start was much more extreme than any World Cup mountain bike start I’ve done and it was also the most important part of the race! I didn’t have a great start, coming through the first lap in 26th – 11 places off my goal – and I found it hard to pass riders and move forward through the field once everything got settled. With two laps to go, I got amped for one more dig towards the finish, when a frozen rut, disguised under mud, shot me into the metal fencing surrounding the course. I instantly knew my race was over as it seemed certain that I’d shattered my collar bone upon impact; plus I couldn’t breath normally for about two minutes. I got some stitches under my chin and my shoulder still hurts like hell. – Evan McNeely