After dominating the early stages of the cyclocross season, Eli Iserbyt‘s bid to take the European Championship title ended with him suffering a leg injury in Namur.
The 25-year-old headed into the race as one of the top favourites with five wins and four podium finishes to his name from just nine races so far.
Iserbyt led early on in Sunday’s race, too, only for eventual silver medallist Lars van der Haar to power past his Belgian rival on the cobbled section. That was when Iserbyt’s day started to unravel and on the resulting off-camber section the Belgian had to dismount after slipping and in the process injuring his leg.
The Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider slipped back in the field losing over a minute on the second lap and then abandoned the race at the midway point.
“Ever since my back troubles, I’ve been struggling with a kind of numbness on my left. And that problem resurfaced today,” Iserbyt told Sporza.
“On the first slanted bank, I got out of balance and had to get off the bike. When I jumped on my bike again, I felt something in my left leg, I was in severe pain. Until then I had a very good feeling. My start was just fine.
“The problem is no longer with my back itself. But look, I don’t want to hide the fact that I have something chronic somewhere. It’s under control, but with the wrong move, it’s annoyed again.”
The victory was taken by Iserbyt’s Belgium teammate Michael Vanthourenhout who mastered the treacherous Namur conditions, only making one small mistake, which allowed him to build an unassailable lead.
Vanthourenhout has long been a loyal teammate to Iserbyt setting up attacks or slowing the pace of other riders while his fellow Belgian attacks. He also finished second in the 2020 European Championships while Iserbyt rode away to victory.
However, now Vanthourenhout will be wearing the elite European champions jersey for first time in his career.
“We are a team,” said Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal general manager Jurgen Mettepenningen. “Today Eli was not so good but then you see that Michael takes over and he makes it very good, it’s very nice.
“I think Eli will be happy for him, they are good friends so it will not be a problem. They are very good team-mates but also friends.”
Mettepenningen said that the Belgian teammates were concerned about the strength of Van der Haar before the race, who beat them both in a dramatic finish in Tuesday’s Koppenbergcross.
When asked what the team tactics were coming into the race, Mettepenningen said they had to gauge Van der Haar’s condition first.
“The first you have to wait on Lars Van der Haar to see if he will be good or not good. I think that Lars was good but Michael was better though.”