Eli Iserbyt dominated the thick mud to win his first elite men’s Belgian cyclocross national title.
Iserbyt was part of the four-rider group that formed after two laps and then he charged clear alone after four laps to distance his rivals.
Former under 23 world champion Joran Wyseure showed his potential by finishing second at 24 seconds, with Michael Vanthourenhout third at 36 seconds.
Iserbyt was emotional after pulling on his first black, yellow and red jersey. He finished second in Antwerp four years ago but now the jersey was his.
In the absence of Wout Van Aert, who is at a Visma-Lease a Bike training camp in preparation for his road season and the Spring Classics, the Belgian title was wide open.
Heavy rain turned the Meulebeke course into a mud bath, with organisers forced to clean up sections of the route before the men’s race. It was going to be a race for hard riders.
After the tension of the wait for the start, Iserbyt was the fastest out of the blocks, with Niels Vandeputte and Laurens Sweeck following him. Nys and Vanthourenhout suffered poor starts but managed to fight their way across to the front group during the first lap.
The attacks began soon after with Nys and former Under 23 world champion Joran Wyseure going clear. After a second attack they were soon joined by Iserbyt and Vanthourenhout, as the mud and especially the deep sand section made a natural selection.
The four gradually extended their lead on lap three despite several attacks and it was up to 20 seconds after lap 4. The mud meant the gap was significantly bigger than the clock suggested. Indeed, a tactical race soon developed up front and in the chase.
During lap 5 Iserbyt made his first significant attack, leading onto the long stairs and then surging away on the descent. He got a gap and kept going. Nys was the first to chase him, with Wyseure and then Vanthourenhout chasing but the title was disappearing ahead of them.
Iserbyt was able to again ride through the sand, as the others were forced to run. He appeared to be a little stronger.
Bike changes were vital every lap, with the riders taking a clean bike on the run due to the deep mud. Iserbyt’s lead after the pits was up to ten seconds and he checked the gap as he exited the second sand pit.
As Iserbyt started the sixth lap, his lead was up to 15 on Nys, with Vanthourenhout at 20 seconds. In a lap Iserbyt had blown open the race.
Iserbyt’s technique in the mud was exemplary. He put the power…