Gilles Coustellier claims epic World Cup opener in Aalter!

Race report UCI World Cup Trials - Aalter (BEL)

Gilles Coustellier claims epic World Cup opener in Aalter!

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The five-round UCI World Cup Trials  kicked off with a bang. Aalter, Belgium was a special stage where those in attendance, about 10.000 spectators over the weekend, witnessed uncut trialbike magic! Fittingly for an historic event it was one of the sports greats, France’s Gilles Coustellier who claimed the win in the men Elite 26”.

True to form the Aalter celebration of their star athlete Kenny Belaey’s 25-year career in the sport turned into something much bigger and exciting than a mere personal tribute. The event indeed took place on the very same site where Jack Carthy upset the establishment by scoring a rostrum finish in his very first Elite race five years ago. But this Aalter World Cup was a completely different animal. Simply put the opening round of the 2017 UCI World Cup staged by action sports agency Enter-Bike was a celebration of trialbike itself!

Miracleman Belaey makes the podium

The contest provided some of the most unpredictable and thrilling riding ever, all wrapped up in an energetic arena featuring groundbreaking sections that were as technical and challenging as they were visually pleasing. Yup, you read that right, no plethora of arrows or section builts that are more confusing -to the non-hardcore punter- than the average contemporary art installation. And while we’re at it, please raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a section built around an active volcano? It certainly seemed that track builders Wesley Belaey and Andy Masschelin took their craft to the next level! Add in the emotional narrative of local hero Kenny Belaey who went into the weekend injured after breaking three ribs in Kluisbergen less than a month ago. However when the dust had settled after the Men Elite 26” final the Belgian veteran proudly stood on the box to accompany his long-time rivals Gilles Coustellier and Vincent Hermance. “It’s definitely some sort of miracle to be standing here when one week I ago was not even sure whether I had a shot of even making the final,” beamed Belaey.

Off-day for Jack Carthy

After winning the 26” semi-finals worldchampion Jack Carthy (GBR) headed into the final the heavy favourite. Things however turned out very differently. On a very demanding and technical course that demanded respect the ‘old guard’ performed effectively indeed. A seemingly rejuvenated Gilles Coustellier rode to a well-deserved win, his first World Cup success since Albertville in 2015. “I worked really hard this winter and I was very focused during the final. It’s great to see how all my efforts paid of. I don’t feel that I’m at my best level yet but I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the season. In the semi-finals Vincent Hermance struggled in the ‘Rocky sea’ by Milwaukee Tools section. Once the final got underway the triple Elite champion had regained his composure. “It’s a pity I had to deal with a flat in the last section but overall it was a great weekend. We were all close until the very end so that was cool for the crowd too,” added ‘Supermance’.

When trials goes streetstyle

In Aalter Jack Carthy once again showed that he’s an exceptional rider. The speed displayed by the popular Brit was second to none. Given the long and hard sections of the Aalter course this was a major asset for Cathy. Unfortunately Jack had to deal with too many technicals but you can expect the Crewkerz rider to strike back in the next World Cup rounds! Only six riders are allowed in the final and without exception their level of riding is superb. This point was clearly made by Nicolas Vallée in the ‘Jungle’ by Crelan section. Vallée was the only one, together with Coustellier, to clear the spectacular North Shore-style ramp. Spanish ace Pol Tarres gave it his best shot but ended up with a fall… And full points for style and effort!

Who else than Abel Mustieles?

The 20” class has traditionally been dominated by Spanish riders and the Belgian season opener of the UCI World Cup trials was no different. Abel Mustieles who dominated the 2016 season continued his winning ways. The Spanish ace was the only rider to add two clean sections to his finals scoring card! Mustieles said: “To be honest I surprised myself here because normally my first races of the season are not that good! I had a blast in Belgium, the course was a lot of fun and I’m happy to have added another World Cup win to my tally, that’s 16 wins now.” Ion Areitio continued his upward progression and confirmed his potential with second place. In a close battle for third the experienced Benito Ros beat Germany’s Dominik Oswald with the tie-break. Dutch 20” top rider Rick Koekoek was one of the riders for who Aalter came too early to perform at the top of their game. Still the powerful Taboo rider wrote history on Friday ahead of the World Cup when he cleared 1 m 44 and set a new bunnyhop highjumping world record.

Nina Reichenbach continues her dominance

In the women’s class it was business as usual for Germany’s Nina Reichenbach. The way that the world champion negotiated the very testing sections spoke volumes about her riding. The reigning world champion was never threatened for the win. Moreover the exceptionally low-score-for-the-day made her an exception in all categories. Reichenbach said: “It’s been a great start to the World Cup season! The sections were definitely hard but riding in Aalter was so much fun. I can’t wait for the next races.” Reichenbach was joined on the podium by the Française Manon Basseville and the Swiss Debi Studer. While Studer was over the moon with her self-produced birthday gift there was heartbreak for local favourite Perrine Devahive. The bronze medal winner of Val di Sole failed to make the final. “It's safe to say that this World Cup was my worst competition ever!! I knew that I was not where I want to be in terms of shape but I was expecting much better from myself though.”

The next stop on the UCI World Cup Trials calendar is Vöcklabruck, Austria on July 8th and 9th. The series returns to Belgium for the final in Antwerp on the 23rd and 24th of September.
VIDEOS
Direct link to the highlights video here
Link to the complete Men Elite 26" final here
Link to the complete Men Elite 20" final here
Link to the complete Women Elite final here
Link to the complete stream of all three finals here

The images in attachment are free for editorial use. Please mention the photographer's credit Leo Zhukov when using them. If you need additional, high-res images or would like to use images for commercial use please mail to foto@leozhukov.ru

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