Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) clinched the overall victory in the GvA Trofee series on Sunday as Belgian champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) won the finale in Oostmalle.
Nys had only a two-point advantage over Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) going into the Internationale Sluitingsprijs, and the title was very much up for grabs throughout the race.
But Pauwels saw his hopes dashed when he had to pit on the final lap. World champion Zdenek Stybar tried to slow the pace to give his teammate a chance to get back on terms, but Nys slipped past him on the inside of a sandy run-up and that was that.
Albert took the win by a mile, punching the sky, but shortly afterward Nys did likewise, having finished fourth to a stone-faced Pauwels’ ninth and thus confirmed his overall GvA Trofee title.
Stybar and Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant) rounded out the day’s podium. On the overall, Nys was the series champion with 169 points. Stybar had slipped into second with 163 while Pauwels dropped to third with 160.
The 2.9km course in Oostmalle was rolling and fast, with several deep sandy U-turns adding a degree of difficulty.
Page plays an early role
Eddy Van Ijzendoorn (AA Drink) got the hole shot and the early lead, chased by American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), who finished sixth at Saturday’s GP Stad Eeklo, and Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea). Nys, Pauwels, Aernouts and Stybar were back in traffic.
At the end of lap one Peeters and Van Ijzendoorn had a slight advantage over the Nys-Stybar-Page group, but they wouldn’t keep it long. Nys took the front with Stybar on his wheel, and they gapped the others in the deep sand as a mechanical in a corner briefly took Pauwels off the bike.
Stybar led Nys across the line with seven laps to go. The two held a seven-second advantage over Peeters, Aernouts and Van Ijzendoorn, while Page had slipped back into a second group some 17 seconds off the pace. Shortly thereafter he would drop from sight entirely, eventually finishing 11th.
A lap later Aernouts had worked his way up to the leaders while Albert led a six-man chase at six seconds.
Aernouts took the front and laid down an effort just as Peeters decked it in the sand, briefly disrupting the chase. The pursuit resumed and sucked in the remainder of the lead group while Aernouts tried to build an advantage.
It didn’t happen — with five to go Aernouts had been caught by a group containing Stybar, Pauwels, Nys, Albert and Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank-Giant). Defending Oostmalle champ Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) led a chase a few seconds down.
Albert comes to the fore
De Knegt took the lead and Albert grabbed his wheel, with Stybar slightly gapped in third. Then the Belgian champ came to the front going into a series of deep sandy U-turns, quickly opening a big gap on De Knegt and the others.
With four laps remaining Albert was alone off the front. De Knegt was in no-man’s land and being reeled in by an eight-man chase at nine seconds down.
Stybar drove the pursuit with Pauwels and Nys on his wheel, the series rivals dicing it a bit, fighting for advantage in the corners. The world champ’s pace slashed the chase in half, with Pauwels, Nys and Aernouts making the front half while De Knegt led a second chase.
Nys took over at the head of the first group going into the sandy U-turns, and the two chases reformed, with the series rivals taking turns driving the pace. But with three laps to go Albert had managed to increase his advantage to 18 seconds.
Nys put the pressure on, taking Pauwels and Wellens with him as Stybar pitted for a fresh bike. Ahead, Albert showed no signs of fatigue, diving into and out of the corners, and with two to go he was in the drops and driving, holding a 28-second advantage.
A clot of spectators crossing the course nearly played a part in the pursuit, but Albert managed to miss them, his margin out to 32 seconds. Aernouts was leading the chase, and when Nys bobbled in a corner the Rabobank rider, Wellens and Stybar left him and Pauwels behind.
Pauwels drove to close the gap with Nys on his wheel as ahead, Albert got the bell lap. Stybar led the pursuit across the line 37 seconds later and punched it, gapping Nys and Pauwels; Nys likewise gassed it, shedding Pauwels, but only briefly.
The best-laid plans . . .
Stybar, glancing over one shoulder, was clearly trying to set up the finale for his teammate, who had beaten Nys before in a sprint finish. He drilled it again, Nys went with him, and the others quickly followed.
Then, disaster — Pauwels had to pit and lost Nys’ wheel. Stybar, dogged by the Landbouwkrediet man and Aernouts, tried to slow the pace going into a sandy run-up but Nys was having none of it — he slipped past the world champ on the inside and took the lead.
A half minute ahead, Albert was enjoying the day’s victory, peeling off his gloves, casting them aside and punching the sky. And shortly thereafter came a second celebration — this time from Nys, who had confirmed his overall victory in the GvA Trofee series.