Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) won a thrilling photo-finish sprint with teammate and world champion Zdenek Stybar to take the seventh round of the GVA Trofee series on Saturday.
The sprint shaped up as a battle between Stybar and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), with Pauwels, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) just out of the running. But the plucky Pauwels shot up from behind and around Nys’ right to take the win by a whisker with the world champion second and Nys third.
Nys crashed just past the finish, apparently botching a dismount as he skidded to a stop. Adding insult to his minor injury was that Pauwels had closed to within two points of his GVA Trofee Cup lead — Nys has 150 points to Pauwels’ 148, while Stybar sits third with 138. Just one race remains, on Feb. 20 in Oostmalle.
The world champion took the lead early on the sandy, sinuous Krawatencross course in Lille, which saw nearly everyone in the top 10 bunny-hopping the lone set of double barriers. By the end of the second lap Stybar was away with Pauwels and Nys, while Albert and Wellens were among those chasing.
Then Nys drilled it, taking Pauwels with him. Albert and Stybar took turns driving the pursuit, and a lap later a five-man group had formed up, with Wellens riding at the rear.
Pauwels and Nys seemed the best of the bunch, especially in the twisty bits, always getting gaps in the corners and forcing Albert and Stybar to chase back up on the straights.
But it was a frisky fivesome, and everyone had his dig. Going into the fourth lap Pauwels made a move as Nys bobbled in a sandy chicane, taking a slight advantage. It didn’t last, though, and soon all five were together again, declaring a brief cease-fire to look around and gauge the situation. Then it was back to business.
With five laps to go Pauwels and Nys once again had a small gap. The Telenet rider flicked an elbow as they crossed the line, but Nys wouldn’t pull through, and the chasers were quickly back on.
Albert seemed to falter briefly, as did Wellens, and Pauwels and Nys were off and running once again, chased by Stybar. He caught them, went to the front and gave it the gas.
With four laps remaining the trio had a handful of seconds on the chase, driven by Albert, who kept plucking at his left brifter for some reason. Nys took the lead and pushed the pace through the sandy chicanes, the leaders’ gap widening in the corners and closing in the straights.
Attack after attack
But inch by inch, the group came back together again, until Stybar laid down the law once more. With three laps to go the world champ was attacking out of every corner, but he couldn’t distance Nys and Pauwels, though Albert and Wellens began to yo-yo on and off the leaders.
Nys slipped into the lead and ramped up the pace just before two laps to go — and then Wellens shot up from the rear and across the line, leaving his erstwhile companions some six seconds in arrears.
Nys drove the pursuit, and as Wellens bobbled in the sandy chicane and briefly came off his bike, his advantage was eliminated. But he kept pushing. Albert chased, with Nys leading the others and Stybar sitting at the back.
Next Albert slipped past and attacked, taking his own sizable gap. Stybar went after him, followed by Nys, and as the chasers pulled him back Albert sat up, looked around and let first Stybar, then Nys take the front.
Bell lap. Still five men out front; still anyone’s race.
Stybar attacked, Albert followed. Nys chased with Pauwels and Wellens. The group reformed.
The world champ retook the lead just before the barriers and then punched it again, and again, trying to ride the others off his wheel. Now Albert seemed in a bit of trouble, riding just off the back.
But the Belgian champion fought back on just in time for a five-man sprint. Stybar led it out on the left side of the road, up against the barriers, with Nys on his right. And then Pauwels zipped out from behind and forged ahead on Nys’ right, just edging Stybar by a tire’s width at the line, leaving the Landbouwkrediet rider to take the final spot on the podium.
American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) was part of the action early on, but slid to 14th by the finish.
Stay tuned for complete results.