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The Belgian nationals: Tom Steels is back
By Celine Tytgadt
Date: 7/1/2002
The Belgian nationals: Tom Steels is back
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"TOM STEELS IS BACK!!" is the first thing what many people said after the Belgian Championships in Maldegem. It was a very exciting race even though some medai thought the flat race wouldn't be able to make it tough enough. But they were wrong and every spectator will agree. He's back in full form and is ready for the Tour.

The riders had to go round Maldegem 16 times over a distance of 15.5 km per lap in total adding up to 248 km. It started of with an attack of about 13 riders and the most unexpected rider was there: Tom Steels. Everyone quite surprised to see him in the attack and many sprinters already hoping he would tire himself out. Other prominent riders were also present in the front group which consisted of Cretskens, Hoste, Van Goolen (Domo-Farm Frites), Johan Verstrepen (Lampre), Kurt van Landeghem (Landbouwkrediet), De Clercq, Detilloux, Verbrugghe (Lotto), Gilmore, Steels (Mapei), Omloop, Pauwels and Vansevenant (Palmans-Colstop). After getting away in lap two, their lead remained under the minute chased by the Vlaanderen boys who completely missed the boat. But as Vlaanderen gave up working in lap 5 their lead grew steadily up to about 2-3 minutes. In lap 8, Johan Dekkers (Marlux-ville de Charleroi) lanched a counter attack together with Marc Wauters from Rabobank. About two laps later on, the two got the support of another 23 riders amongst others riders like Serge Bauget, Kurt Vandewouwer, Peter van Petegem, Axel Merckx, Michel Vanhaecke, Fabien De Waele and Ludo Dierckxens.

As the distance between the two groups came to only 50 seconds, three riders decided it was time to leave the rest behind. Those three were Rik Verbrugghe, Jurgen Van Goolen en Wim Vansevenant. The lead of the trio never was really high (not even a minute) but the tension was building up in the crowds. In the last km of the race, the emotions went from cheers of joy when Rik Verbrugghe attacked to the sjeer disappointment when he cracked. From the surprise of hearing that Ludovic Capelle was in a prime position to the magnificent deserving victory of Tom Steels.

He sprinted the perfect sprint. Staying in Ludovic Capelle's wheel until the last meters, until the last jump that made him finish ahead of Capelle and Gert Vanderaerden. "The reward is there. I am so happy. For my wife Leefn, my parents, my supporters, the Belgian Mapei-crew. Maldegem is my far most important victory of the three jerseys.

"It was a very nervous race. A day where I was in front for a long time, but still managed to get back a few times from a lost position. I decided to settle in Capelle's wheel whatever happened. I stayed very cool even though a lot happened inthe sprint. I came out of his wheel at the perfect time."

"This one is definetely the most important one" Tom continues. "After two years of highs and lows. 2001 wasn't the easiest. I have had periods in which I doubted a lot. In Catalunya I felt everything come together again. Everything went in the right direction and now I can definitely say that I am completely back, this was a race of 250 km and I spent most of the day in the attack."

Ludovic Capelle, second, believed all along in his chances to strand at only a few mm from Tom Steels. Asked if he was disappointed the answer was obvious. "Well, it would have been better if I first finished second and then first instead of the other way around. Up to about 200 meters from the line, I rode the perfect race. I was very strong and not too tensed. It was ideal, but maybe I was a bit too far in the final. Ah well, I have done a good race but if you bump into a great rider like Tom Steels.....He's in great form and I hope he can win a stage in the Tour this year, but not before Kirsipuu of course.

Ok, I am disappointed, but I have proved today that It wasn't a one-off last year. Maybe next year. I definitely don't have to wait two years because in Saint-Hubert it's just impossible."

The rider who isn't that known on the podium was the number three Gert Vanderaerden having his best year so far. "At first, I was extremely disappointed that I only had bronze. But then again, Capelle and Steels are faster than me. Before the race, I was hoping a top 5 would be possible. This has been my best year so far because I never worked as hard as I did this winter."

Ludo Dierckxens was also a bit down after the race which he coloured all along. "No, it couldn't be. It was kind of predictable. The guys from Lotto, from Colstrop everytime on your wheel. I was all alone since my only teammate Johan Verstrepen was up front. I had to make the race though and I did that. I fought and lost against the overwhelming teams. It was very difficult on this kind of route."

The results

1. Tom STEELS (Mapei-Quick Step) 248 km in 5u40'
2. Ludovic Capelle
3. Gert Vanderaerden
4. James Vanlandschoot
5. Mario De Clercq
6. Axel Merckx
7. Nico Mattan
8. Hans De Clercq
9. Johan Dekkers
10. Ludo Dierckxsens
11. Sven Vanthourenhout
12. Peter Van Petegem
13. Serge Baguet
14. Christoph Roodhooft
15. Geert Omloop
16. Glenn D'Hollander
17. Jo Planckaert
18. Wilfried Cretskens
19. Gorik Gardeyn
20. Paul Van Hyfte
21. Bert Roesems
22. Steven De Neef
23. Jurgen Van Goolen
24. Kurt Van de Wouwer
25. Bjorn Leukemans
26. Karl Pauwels
27. Peter Wuyts
28. Bart De Waele
29. Marc Wauters
30. Christophe Detilloux
31. Michel Vanhaecke
32. Fabien De Waele
33. Rik Verbrugghe

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