A two-up sprint requires four pedals — just ask Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), who snapped one off while battling Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) for the victory in the fifth round of the Superprestige on Sunday.
After having done the lion’s share of the work driving a four-man breakaway, Meeusen and Nys had finally taken a narrow edge over BKCP-Powerplus teammates Dieter Vanthourenhout and Radomir Simunek on the bell lap on a sinuous, frozen circuit in Gieten, Netherlands. The Telenet rider hit the pavement first, leading out what should have been a two-man dash to the line.
But suddenly Nys veered right and nearly into the barricades — he had snapped off his left pedal and snarled his chain.
After briefly trying to one-leg it to the line, Nys surrendered to the inevitable, dismounted and ran it in — for fourth place, behind Meeusen, Simunek and Vanthourenhout.
“This was a fantastic first major victory, but it’s a pity that Sven Nys could not have sprinted,” said Meeusen. “Naturally, with him around my victory would have shined brighter, as people now will think I only won because of his bad luck. Of course, I don’t know if I could have beaten him, but I still had something left.”
Slick circuit, fast racing
It was a cold, windy day, with temperatures of minus-1 Celsius (30 degrees Fahrenheit) and snow on the ground that narrowed the track considerably, particularly in the corners, which came early and often — 90-degree right- and left-handers, 180-degree hairpins, the whole ball of mud. Other bells and whistles included the obligatory flyover (a ride, not a run), a three-step staircase and a double barrier on a flat section.
American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) got off to a good start, but the BKCP-Powerplus guys had a better one, putting three guys out front straight away, among them Mitchel Huenders, who took a slight lead as the first lap came to a close.
Huenders didn’t stay out there for long — a group of a dozen or more contenders, including Nys, Meeusen, Simunek and Vanthorenhout, chased him down and the Belgian champion led a long line of hopefuls snaking through the start-finish going into the third lap. Page’s good start had come to naught, however — he was already some 17 seconds off the pace.
Simunek and Meeusen tried their luck next, flinging out legs as outriggers in the slippery corners, but couldn’t shake Nys. Then Meeusen got a gap as Simunek dabbed in an icy sweeper, and Nys slipped into second, with Vanthorenhout moving up and into contention.
A four-man break and a derailed chase
The next time across the line this four-man lead group held a five-second advantage over a chase led by world champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea). Page, meanwhile, was at the head of a second chase group.
Nys and Meeusen drove the break relentlessly, with the Telenet rider attacking the corners, getting a slight advantage in every one but never holding it long. With seven laps to go the four were still together, with the Stybar chase at 10 seconds and the Page group a further 30 seconds behind.
The world champ was having trouble, either physical or mechanical, and fell out of the first chase for a trip to the pit. Teammate Bart Wellens took over at the front of the chase, which contained Telenet’s Kevin Pauwels and Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank-Giant), and the pursuit began making headway.
He had closed to within three seconds of the leaders as they flew over the stairs and it was looking like the break might get some fresh legs — until Wellens crashed heavily in a tight left-hand corner, winding up dazed and in pain on the other side of the barriers and derailing the pursuit.
Page stacked it in the same place a few moments later. Both men would remount, but only the American would finish — Wellens called it quits shortly thereafter, as did Saturday’s World Cup winner, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus).
Next trip up the stairs the foursome had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead, with Nys and Meeusen providing the horsepower and the BKCP men clearly saving their matches for later.
Take a pull, can’t you?
With five laps to go Nys became critical of his passengers and Vanthourenhout took a brief pull before Meeusen and the Belgian champ resumed their tow-truck duties at the front, Nys periodically glancing over one shoulder in exasperation. De Knegt was leading the chase at 19 seconds.
With four to go Meeusen was on the front. The chase was losing ground, nearly a half minute behind, and De Knegt appeared to be either cooked or cranky.
Finally, Vanthourenhout moved forward for an extended turn on the front, though Simunek remained content to bring up the rear.
With three to go Nys was back in the driver’s seat, the chase was at 37 seconds and it was clear that the winner would be one of the men in the break. Nys and Meeusen bunny-hopped the double barrier this time around, but gained no advantage, and the two continued to trade pace with the BKCP men in their wake.
Two laps to go and Nys was looking frustrated. With the chase some 45 seconds in arrears he forced the BKCP riders into the first two spots, and Simunek finally stuck his nose into the wind with Nys on his wheel and Meeusen at the rear. Coming up: the bell lap.
The bell-lap battle
Nys took the front once more, and he and Meeusen rode the barriers again, without gaining so much as a tire’s width.
And then the battle commenced.
Vanthourenhout came to the front as Nys dabbed, dropping to the rear. The four fought for position going through the corners, and Nys bobbled again, once again losing a bit of ground. Then Meeusen took the front, with Simunek on his wheel. Vanthourenout found himself gapped slightly at the steps, but quickly regained contact.
Then Simunek punched it and he and Meeusen shot shoulder to shoulder into a tight right-hand corner. Meeusen retook the lead on the flyover, and Nys grabbed his wheel. Meeusen gave it full throttle, and only Nys could follow.
The two hit the finish-line straight together, and Meeusen opened the sprint, head down and hammering. Nys stood on the pedals — and one of them went away, skittering across the road.
He nearly went over the bars and into the barricades, but somehow kept the bike upright. But with only one pedal and a snarled chain he was going nowhere fast, and saw all his hard work vanish as Meeusen took the victory and their passengers filled the rest of the podium.
“A broken pedal, it shouldn’t happen,” said Nys. “I can’t begrudge Tom Meeusen the victory, because he was very strong, but I was sitting in the ideal place to ride for the win. Yet it’s lucky that I didn’t fall. The consequences could have been much worse.”
And for Meeusen, they could hardly have been much better.
“The nature of this course helped me achieve the victory. The fast driving, aggressive riding and risk-taking fits me like a glove,” he said. “I never thought that a first victory would come so fast. Apparently ‘crosses in the Netherlands suit me. First I won in Woerden, now in Gieten.
“When will they ride the world championships in the Netherlands again?”
- With Stybar finishing 17th, out of the points, and Albert and Wellens both abandoning, Nys took some comfort from the notion that he’s on track for another victory in the Superprestige series with 68 points under his belt. “Because Stybar, Albert and Wellens didn’t take any points, I’m still doing well in the overall standings,” said Nys. “Now I have a 12-point lead over Pauwels, and have my sights set on a 10th title, my primary goal for this season.”
— Dan Seaton contributed to this report.
- 1. Tom Meeusen, Telenet-Fidea
- 2. Radomir Simunek, BKCP-Powerplus
- 3. Sven Vanthourenhout, BKCP-Powerplus
- 4. Sven Nys, Landbouwkrediet
- 5. Kevin Pauwels, Telenet-Fidea
- 1. Sven Nys, Landbouwkrediet, 68 points
- 2. Kevin Pauwels, Telenet-Fidea, 56
- 3. Zdenek Stybar, Telenet-Fidea, 51
- 4. Bart Aernouts, Rabobank-Giant, 49
- 5. Niels Albert, BKCP-Powerplus, 46