But while Nys and Albert, alongside Pauwels, are the clear favorites, it is another man, Klaas Vantornout, who comes to the race as Belgian national champion. While the trio of favorites basked in media attention at a team press conference Friday morning, the tall, lanky Vantornout sat quietly at a table by himself, checking messages on his phone. But Vantornout told VeloNews that he was happy to come into the race a bit under the radar — and removed from the pressure of media scrutiny.
“The season was already very good for me,” he said. “I have a nice jersey with three colors [the Belgian champion’s jersey is referred to as the driekleur, or three color, for it’s iconic red, yellow, and black color scheme]. I’m very relaxed for tomorrow, and maybe that’s my advantage. I feel good. It’s a course that I like, with a little bit of mud. I like it more than the Belgian championships course, I can place high.”
His Belgian teammate, Bart Wellens, back at a championship race after a major health scare nearly ended his career a year ago, meanwhile, said he was just happy to be a part of the race at all.
“I’ve been dreaming about winning, but dreams and the truth are a big difference,” Wellens said on Friday morning. “We will see in the first few laps, and if it is ok, then I go first for a good result. And if I have a good result and I am in the front of the race and I can help someone — Sven, Kevin, Niels, or Klaas — then we will see in the race. If I can say after the race that I helped someone be a world champion and my result is good, then that’s fine.”
Wellens was among a handful of Europeans who scouted the race venue ahead of the championships, making a stop in Louisville during a visit to the United States in 2011. Wellens, who had cautioned then that the race promoters had their work cut out for them in putting on a world-class event, said all of his expectations had been met.
“The track is beautiful for sure,” he said. “You just have two minus points: first, the stairs are so steep, so I think the girls like [Telenet-Fidea trade teammates] Pavla [Havlikova] and Amy [Dombroski] can barely go up them, and second, the pits aren’t in the middle of the track. But the field is nice, the section in the woods is technical and hard, you have a running part, the sand is hard. It’s a real Belgian cycling track, for sure.”
So, who does such a Belgian track favor?
Most of the Belgians named each other as the biggest threats. Nys, picked Albert. Vantornout pointed to Albert, Pauwels, and Nys. Albert pointed back at Nys, Vantornout, and Pauwels.
But Albert had three other wildcards, all non-Belgian: French champion Francis Mourey, Dutch champion Lars van der Haar, and American Jeremy Powers. But the defending champion added he didn’t worry much about the threats for podium places or top five finishes.
“When I stand on the highest level,” he joked, “it doesn’t matter who is on the other two steps.”