Radomir Simunek Jr. (BKCP-Powerplus) starred in a thrilling episode of “One Good Line Theater” on Saturday during a snow-packed Scheldecross Antwerp, round three of the Fidea Cyclocross Classics series.
Simunek and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) were battling for the front in the last lap on the frozen, rutted course when the Belgian champion dropped his chain as the two bumped shoulders in a sketchy descent from a staircase that led to a U-turn followed by a flyover.
It was all the edge Simunek needed. He gave it the gas with Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Revor) on his wheel and Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant) just behind.
Simunek and Vanthourenhout hit the paved finishing straight together, and the BKCP man led out the sprint from the front, holding his advantage to the line. Vanthourenhout hung on for second with Aernouts third — surely a disappointing result for the Rabobank-Giant rider, who had led much of the race.
A grim-looking Nys finished 12th, just ahead of American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), who had a strong start but faded in the final laps. And Lars Boom (Rabobank) had another fine outing in his minimalist comeback tour, finishing fourth on the day.
One line, plenty of waiting
It was a gray, chilly day in Antwerp, with temperatures in the low 20s and snow covering the course. In most sections there was only one good line, and even that one was sketchy.
The course featured all the usual obstacles — off-camber corners, barely rideable hills and sketchy handling sections, among them a slippery U-turn that gave riders trouble all day and a fast descent from a staircase run-up that button-hooked right into a rideable flyover.
Sven Vanthourenhout grabbed the hole shot while Nys found himself caught in traffic, stuck behind a dabbing rider and well off the pace in the frenetic early going. Simunek took the lead on the first climb with Vanthourenhout right behind him. BKCP’s Dieter Vanthourenhout was there, too, as was Sunweb’s Klaas Vantornout.
Boom was sitting fourth as the long line of riders hit the staircase run, and Page was up there, too. Nys was working his way forward, not an easy task on the frozen circuit.
Going into the second lap Sven Vanthourenhout, Simunek and Dieter Vanthourenhout were at the head of affairs, but nothing had been sorted out yet. The trio had a smidgen of daylight going up the staircase, but Boom was closing in, with Page not far behind.
As lap two wrapped it was still a threesome up front with Boom sitting some four seconds back and Page a further eight seconds in arrears. Nys was 20 seconds back and looking unperturbed.
A crash and a change
The three leaders clung to their advantage as Boom chased with Aernouts on his wheel. And then, suddenly, Simunek laid it down in that dicey U-turn, blocking Sven Vanthourenhout, and Boom was on them and past, opening up a lead. Aernouts was right behind, as was Dieter Vanthourenhout,
Boom lit it up going into the stairs and forged a three-man lead group with Aernouts and Dieter Vanthourenhout. Simunek was leading a large chase four seconds back.
Aernouts made a move before the corner that had send Simunek flying and Boom let him go. In an instant Aernouts had a four-second lead while Boom and Dieter Vanthourenhout had plenty of company — at the stairs Aernouts was just ahead of a 10-rider chase headed by Boom, with Simunek on his wheel and Page and Nys on board, too.
With five laps to go Aernouts was off the front going through the start-finish with Simunek leading the chasers at 10 seconds. Once off the pavement Boom attacked to get back in front of the chase; Simunek grabbed the lead back, then crashed in that same U-turn, leaving the former world champion at the head of the chase once again.
Aernouts airs it out
Next time up the stairs Aernouts had an 11-second advantage with Nys moving up. As the Rabobank rider shot along through the snow a spectator leaning into the track nearly took him out, but Aernouts dodged that bullet and pressed on.
With four laps remaining Nys was sitting second, 14 seconds behind Aernouts, who was out of the saddle and drilling it every chance he had. Boom was proving something of an irritant, interrupting the pursuit, and finally Nys and Sven Vanthourenout put a little bit of space between them and him as Page parked himself on Boom’s wheel.
Next time through the start-finish Aernouts was looking over his shoulder. Nys had closed to within seven seconds, with Boom and Vanthourenout for company, and Simunek and Eddy Van Ijezendoorn (AA Drink) chasing. Page, meanwhile, had finally popped and was going backwards.
At the stairs Aernouts clung to just three seconds’ advantage, and atop the flyover the chase was breathing down his neck. But he fought on, and Nys either couldn’t or wouldn’t close the gap just yet.
Two to go and another look over the shoulder — Nys was just a couple seconds back with Vanthourenhout on his wheel, doing no work. Page was long gone.
Then Simunek fought his way back up to the chasers, with Boom, Van Ijezendoorn and Dieter Vanthourenhout. Aernout’s lead was a matter of only a few bike lengths.
Finally, the catch
And finally, they caught him. Going into the stairs it was Aernouts, Nys, Simunek and Vanthourenhout, and still Aernouts refused to surrender the lead. Next to join the party were Boom, Van Ijezendoorn and Dieter Vanthourenhout. As the lap wound down Simunek slipped into second, with Nys third. It was anybody’s race.
As the leaders began the bell lap Aernouts still held the front, with Simunek second, Nys third and Sven Vanthourenhout fourth. Boom, Van Ijezendoorn and Dieter Vanthourenhout were hovering within striking distance.
Then Simunek had a go. Aernouts followed, with Nys on his wheel. Sven Vanthourenhout trailed with Boom.
The others didn’t give Simunek much of a leash, and what little they allowed they quickly took back. The bunch was together, battling through the corners. Simunek led through thatr dicey U-turn with Nys second and Sven Vanthourenhout third. Boom was trailing in fourth.
Nys guys finish … 12th
Simunek drove hard, with Nys right behind. Then the Belgian champ attacked going into the stairs and seized the lead, but only just — he and Simunek were shoulder to shoulder on the descent to the flyover, and as the two men fought for the advantage in that downhill corner Nys dropped his chain and fell right out of the race.
Simunek and Sven Vantourenhout were off and running. The BKCP rider was really giving it the gas, and by the time he and Vanthourenout hit the pavement Simunek had a comfortable advantage.
He put his head down, gave it one last shove and rode on to the win. Vanthourenhout held on for second with Aernouts third.
Stay tuned for results.