International Cycle Sport | April 1972 | Issue No 47 | Page 14
Since 1968 Belgians have scored remarkable doubles in World Cyclo-Cross Championships, lifting both the professional and amateur titles on each occasion and in the 1972 events in Prague they did it again to make their tally five years in a row. While it was a great, but not unexpected achievement, for Eric De Vlaeminck to gain his sixth gold medal - and his fifth title in succession - it was his amateur counterpart, Norbert Dedeckere, who earned his rainbow jersey the hard way, coming from behind to score a surprise victory.
No Joy for British in Prague
by David Saunders
ALTHOUGH there were top performances from De Vlaeminck and the plucky Wolfshohl, who battled on to finish only 27 seconds down after a crash and three punctures, the 'Cash Clash' was an anti-climax, a dull processional affair after the tremendous struggle between the amateurs who fought out as a fine a championship as one could wish to see. Some idea of the closeness of the leaders could be gained from looking at the result sheet - less than one minute separated 1st from 9th place, with only eleven seconds between the three medal winners.
It is difficult to find words to express one's feelings about the British performances. John Atkins gave a creditable display with 12th position, a place which he maintained from almost start to finish, but, for the rest, there is little comment to make. Anger, tinged with sadness may be the best way of describing my reactions after the pitiful showing by the amateurs on a course which they should have ridden better.
No real blame could be attached to Tony Lyne, Roger Page or Vic Barnett, who were not expected to perform wonders. It was Chris Dodd who caused most disappointment and gnashing of teeth with a display totally devoid of his usual animation.
How can a rider who finished sixth in the world in 1971, who has progressed well since that time and has taken the British amateur title after riding all season at home with considerable success, slump to 42nd place nearly six minutes down! Dodd has the strength and ability to become a really top class cyclo-cross rider but I am afraid he seemed to lack the one all important quality which is necessary in all sections of cycle sport - courage.
It was not just good enough to shrug off such a poor performance by saying, "It wasn't my day". Dodd's only other comment was that the course was too difficult and with so many ups and downs and corners he never had chance to get into any kind of rhythm. But it was the same for everyone and the top men covered each lap nearly a minute faster than Dodd.
The course was hard, with twists, bends and climbs coming thick and fast, but at least it was not very muddy; although it was dangerous in places where cambers sloped the wrong way, and one had to be careful in picking out the right line. It had to be hard, it was a world championship and, as Eric De Vlaeminck said after he had been presented with his gold medal, "I was never so tired in my life before."
Praise there must be for Tony Lyne who refused to be put off by the big occasion and rode well above his normal standard. At one time he even passed the slow-moving Dodd which he had never managed to do in races at home. Lyne would have been lucky in Britain to have got to within two minutes of Dodd which further indicates just how badly the British amateur champion was riding.
Mention must also be made of 'Big Roger' Page, who stuck to his guns and produced his usual gutsy ride. The oldest man in the championship at 35 he did not disgrace himself, being lapped just as the leaders came up the finishing straight. Vic Barnett was probably the bravest and unluckiest of them all. Gaining the bronze medal in the British title race he gashed his right knee badly and on the day before the world title race he crashed on the Prague cobbles and opened up the wound again. He rode despite this and although at the back almost from the start he stayed there and finished the race. In the 'Lanterne Rouge' position he was given the name of 'Barnetti' on the result sheet!
The tenacity and determination of this trio was in stark contrast to the dismal display by Dodd. Whether they should have gone to Prague is a matter for the British Cyclo-Cross Association to debate since it was their money which flew the team to Czechoslovakia and back. Three members of the professional team chosen decided not to go as they had to pay their own way. I think they were right, for if they could not match Atkins at home there was little chance of anything better in Prague.
The B.C.C.A. now have a lot to do in the coming season to train riders and bring them up to a higher standard than the one that pertains at home right now. Thanks to the 'International Cycle Sport' Trophy series there is more opportunity for riders to meet up with top quality opposition from the Continent. More has to be achieved if that elusive Cyclo-Cross medal is to be gained for the first time. What better place than at the Crystal Palace next year when Britain plays host to the world championships, through the sponsorship of The Daily Telegraph, for the first ever occasion?
But at Prague Dedeckere was a worthy amateur champion and the 100 supporters who chartered a special plane from Ostend to cheer on "their Norbert" had a superb surprise. It was, of course, another Belgian, Robert Vermeire, who started favourite after taking the two previous world amateur titles. He looked to be well on the way to his hat-trick when leading after four of the eight laps of the circuit had been completed, but the Czech Milos Fisera, always near the front, forced the pace and. as eyebrows rose in amazement, Vermeire cracked and dropped back.
Dedeckere was 15 seconds down with six others when Vermeire was passed by Fisera and the West German Wolfgang Renner, but he bridged the gap and reached the two in front as they began the fifth lap. As the trio began their last circuit, the 15,000 crowd roared crazily as Fisera maintained the pressure, only seven seconds separating them from another threesome. This was made up of the other two West Germans, Stahle and Teichreber, and Dutchman Gert Wildeboer who was then gesticulating madly as his rear tyre was beginning to deflate.
Not far behind them came the remainder of the Czech team, the three together, causing another tremendous burst of cheering and applause. Into the last mile and the title was still in doubt between the leading trio. On a stiff rise Fisera attacked and opened up a gap of 20 yards but the Belgian responded, and the move shed the tiring Renner. On a steep, twisting descent just prior to the last climb, Dedeckere threw caution to the wind and sped away. Renner fought back magnificently to reach Fisera as they began the climb, but both men were unable to catch the fleeing Belgian just ahead of them.
Amateurs (20.5 kms)
Professionals (23 kms)
N Dedeckere Belgium 1:03:30
M Fisera Czech. At 0:05
W Renner W Germany at 0:11
E Teichreber W Germany at 0:14
K Stahle W Germany at 0:15
G Wildeboer Holland at 0:26
P Krejci Czech. at 0:38
V Cervinek Czech. at 0:53
J Murdych Czech. at 0:57
R Vermeire Belgium at 1:06
W Muller Switzerland at 1:43
G Lahalle France at 1:46
42. C Dodd GB
45. A Lyne GB
49. R Page GB
52. V Barnett GB
E De Vlaeminck Belgium 1:08:04
R Wolfshohl W Germany at 0:27
H Gretener Switzerland at 2:21
A Van Damme Belgium at 2:28
J Basualdo Spain at 2:30
Den Haesevelde Belgium at 2:37
A Wilhelm France at 3:37
M Baele Belgium at 3:58
P Frischknecht Switzerland at 4:18
J Gonzales Spain at 4:20
C Guimard France at 5:16
J Atkins GB at 5:31
W Germany 12 pts
Czechoslovakia 17 pts
Belgium 29 pts
Belgium 11 pts
Switzerland 29 pts
France 32 pts
Dedeckere crossed the line five seconds ahead of Fisera who had enough left to attack on the road climb up to the finish and drop Renner, who lost six more seconds before he clinched the bronze.
The other two West Germans came in behind to earn them the team race with Wildeboer. after a wheel change, taking sixth place and the other Czechs, packing well together, filling the next three positions with a despondent Vermeire coming in for tenth place just over a minute down. It was Cyclo-Cross at its best and certainly the hardest fought title race I have seen for some years.
What can one say about the professionalevent which, because of its very nature and the class of the field, should have been the highlight of the day but was not? De Vlaeminck is a superb bike rider and when one realises that he is also very capable on the road and on the track tl]ere are few superlatives left to describe his amazing ability.
Had poor Wolfshohl not had such terrible luck then the finish might have been as exciting as the amateur event, but the West German was left to chase in vain after only 1! of the nine laps had been covered. Cruel fate struck twice at Wolfshohl, the first coming when his front wheel slid away on a loose stone and he fell on the descent of the first climb. Remounting almost immediately he attacked and bridged a ten second gap when he punctured, for the first time. The Belgian was just two lengths in front when the mishap occurred and there was still only ten seconds between them as lap three came up.
Wolfshohl punctured again on that lap but, incredibly, he fought back again and only lost four more seconds to' De Vlaeminck. But another puncture later on deflated more than his tyre and although he still tried, tlie gap was 27 seconds at the end. It was a magnificent ride to have kept the margin so close after all that trouble,
Behind them the only rider to stand out was Spaniard Jose-Maria Basualdo, who came second in the 1970 amateur race. Not in the first ten after the first lap he moved up to sixth place on the second and was in third place by lap four, Tiring towards the end he had nothing left when the Swiss Gretener went by followed by the Belgian Van Damme and he ended the day in fifth place.
A few other outstanding memories were the remarkable showing of the French road star Cyrille Guimard, whose skill on this course as well as his roadman's strength, earned him 11 th place, 16 seconds ahead of Atkins; Italian Renato Longo, five times a world champion, and at 35 years of age still showing some of the effortless ease and skill which earned him those titles; and another Italian, Giovani De Franceschi, who did not finish, but rode 'off the back' throughout with such composure and ease that I dubbed him 'De Vlaeminck in reverse'.
Although both championships had been well contested events, much appreciated by the large crowd, some of the scenes after the finish left a sour taste in the mouth. To control the enthusiastic spectators even tear gas was used, hardly the best way of dealing with a sporting crowd good-naturedly pushing to get a better view of the medal ceremony.
Delegates from the U.C.I., who were whisked everywhere in special cars, must have seen other incidents, and a number saw the pathetic sight of an empty road, except for a few odd shoes lying in it, after the crowd had run. Perhaps those delegates will think twice before again awarding world championships to that part of the world.