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Canada’s Van den Ham 34th as Belgium Romps on Final Day at 2018 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships

by pedalmag.com

February 04, 2018 – The final day of the 2018 Cyclo-cross World Championships belonged to Belgium as the powerhouse nation claimed both the U23 and Elte Men’s world titles. The top Canadian was national champ, Michael van den Ham of Abbottsford, B.C., who raced to his best Worlds result finishing 34th in the Elite men’s race (last year he was 38th).

Eli Iserbyt  ©  Cor Vos
The U23 men kicked things off in very cold conditions with occasional snow flakes. The muddy course saw multiple crashes as Belgium’s Eli Iserbyt escaped at the half way point of the 5-lap race and never looked back. Pre-race favourite Tom Pidcock (Gbr), who won almost everything this season, came unclipped at the start and went downhill from there finishing 18th. Canada’s lone entry, Nicholas Diniz of Oakville, Ontario, finished 45th at 10:18 behind the winner.

Nic Diniz – Ralph Samson_valkenburg.44

“The course was definitely the hardest I’ve ever ridden, by the end of the race I could hardly make it up the stairs on the flyover. More running than any other races I’ve done by a long shot. The course dried a bit leading to race day which turned the mud into a thick and sticky slop, when riding or running it seemed as if it was pulling you backwards,” Diniz described to Pedal.

For Diniz it was challenging to make headway but he persevered through the thick mud gaining experience along the way.

“The main challenge for me in this race was not the technical descents, but the constant fight to keep moving forward, as a little mistake or loss of traction would leave you at a standstill in the thick mud. Unlike some races where there are distinct efforts like trying to drop somebody or bridge up to the next group, all I could do was focus on riding the next section cleanly. Everybody was making mistakes and staying focused through the little mistakes were more important than ever.”

Belgian fans are renowned and Diniz felt the love and the highlight of having his parents cheering from the sidelines. “The fans were amazing, even for the earlier U23 race the whole course was lined with spectators. One of the highlights for me was the section of the course where my parents were standing, the cheering got louder every lap as they recruited more fans! It was really cool to have them make the trip out and support me. For the Elite’s race the atmosphere was unbelievable, it was so much fun to watch with the other Canadian riders while enjoying fries and mayo after my race.

“I’m really happy with my performance! I hadn’t set any result based goals but I rode a mostly clean race and finished as well as I believe I could have. This race highlighted what I need to work on but as a first year U23 in my first year racing a full cross season I feel like I will have a lot better results in the future,” he added.

Wout van Aert (BEL)  ©  Cor Vos
In the 7-lap Elite Men’s final pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) attacked with five Belgians in tow led by defending champ, Wout Van Aert, who caught and passed his rival on the second lap. Van der Poel cracked falling to fourth behind Belgian teammates Michael Vanthourenhout and Toon Aerts but he recovered for the bronze.

Van Aert extended his lead to take home a historic triple winning the Elite men’s race for the third consecutive time. Vanthourenhout was second with Van der Poel third. Van Aert’s victory gave Belgium all three top titles as Sanne Cant won the elite women’s race as well.

Van den Ham  ©  Ralph Samson_valkenburg.2
Van den Ham slugged it out finishing 34th while teammate Mark McConnell of Hot Sauce fame was just out of the top 50 in 51st up from 55th last year.

Mark McConnell  ©  Ralph Samson
“I think just about everyone has said it, but that course was the hardest ‘cross course I’ve ever seen. It was unrelenting and the only way to race it was just to focus on making it through the next section. I know there were 60 odd guys out there, but after the start I hardly noticed them. I know this sounds corny, but it wasn’t a race against people, at least not in the middle of the pack where I was racing, but it was a battle against the course,” commented Van den Ham.

The reigning Canadian champ was shooting for a top-30 result and came close. “I went into the race with a goal of the top-30 and, for pretty big chunk of it, was within reach of that. A couple little mishaps knocked me back a few places on the final laps, but I can’t help but leave this Worlds happy knowing that I’m more than capable of racing for top-30s or even top-20s in events of this calibre in the future,” he explained.

Van den Ham  ©  Ralph Samson
Van den Ham was also appreciative of the fan support and Cyclocross Canada’s input behind the scenes to help make the experience top-knotch for the athletes to be able to perform at their best.

“As always at Worlds, the fans are what really make the event special. I don’t think anything will ever compare to the fandom at Sven’s last World’s in Zolder, but I still have to hand it to all the spectators. They walked up a (Dutch) mountain, braved the near freezing conditions, slipped and slid they way around the course, and still found the energy to cheer for people like me in the middle of the pack,” he continued.

“Finally, I don’t think I can talk about this race without also mentioning how important the Cyclocross Canada staff are. An epic muddy course like this means the mechanics and staff are working non-stop for days on end. A huge “Thank You” to Scott [Kelly], Rob, Regan, Derek, Drew, Adam, and Amanda for making everything so perfect that all the athletes had to do was focus on racing,” Van den Ham concluded.

Results here


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