Just a week ahead of the Belgian championships, the evenly matched Sven Nys and Niels Albert stand alone as the favorites.
“I wanted to sprint today,” Albert told VeloNews after Sunday’s race, when he held off a ferocious late-race chase by Nys. “Next week is the championship of Belgium and I want to see how fast I am against Sven.”
In 2009, in Ruddervoorde, Albert launched a furious comeback after a bad start and fell a heartbreaking 10 meters short of catching the perennial Belgian champion Nys at the finish. Nys has missed the championship only two times since the 2002–03 season and has never failed to make the podium in that time. This year, Albert said, he has targeted winning the Belgian champion’s jersey as his top goal, and he used the busy week to fine tune his legs going into the race.
“This year I want that jersey more than the world championship jersey,” said Albert in Loenhout. “I had the world championship jersey two years ago, but the Belgian championship I didn’t win. In my first year I was third in Hofstade, I was second in Ruddervoorde, and last year was a total off-day. So I hope this year in Antwerp that everything is on my side.”
Nys, meanwhile, must continue to worry about the technical problems that continue to mar otherwise good races. Dropped chains have been a problem in several races, including Diegem and Scheldecross, on the same course that will host the Belgian Championships this weekend. In the fifth round of the Superprestige series in November a pedal failure in the final sprint cost Nys a chance at victory — and could have caused a serious crash were the Belgian a less skilled bike handler.
And miscommunications with his mechanics has caused even more serious problems for him in the pits. In a very muddy race in Niel in November Nys entered the pits and found nobody waiting for him — though the mistake didn’t cost him the race. In Loenhout on Wednesday, Nys was spun to the ground when a mechanic tried to grab his bike before he had stepped out of the pedal.
“The stress is really high,” said Nys, visibly frustrated after the botched bike handoff. “This has happened a lot the last two or three weeks. For my mechanics everything is a high stress level, for them it’s even harder than for me. Everybody talks with them, ‘Be aware that the chain is good, the pedal is good, and now the crash.’ So it’s not so easy. And everything that Sven Nys is doing is in the newspapers and everywhere. It’s hard.”
But Nys returned to form with his dramatic win over Stybar muddy Baal, and said he felt good going into championships week.
“My shape is really good,” he said, “and I know what I must do in the last week to have a good race in the Belgian championships. Niels is also a big favorite, because he won two big races this week and also was second in Zolder. It could be Niels, but it could be me also. And then you have Tom Meeusen, Klaas Vantornout, it’s not only two guys. It’s a special day with a lot of nervous moments, so we’ll see what happens, but I have the experience and I think I can win again.”