A crafty Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) outfoxed world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) to win the first race of the 2011-12 UCI World Cup in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
The three were well ahead of a half-dozen chasers with Stybar and Pauwels doing the lion’s share of the work and Nys only rarely taking the front. Instead, he held his fire until the final meters of the race, laying down a decisive attack after a steep staircase run-up and taking a slight lead onto the paved finishing straightaway.
It was all he needed — Nys held on for the win ahead of Pauwels and a visibly frustrated Stybar, whose relentless attacks had left him with the lowest step on the podium.
The top American on the day was Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) in 10th. Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) finished 20th with Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) 21st.
In women’s racing, the top American was Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant), who soloed to victory.
Compton tested the other contenders several times before making a decisive move on the fourth of six laps. She held off the chase to finish 18 seconds ahead of runner-up Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash) and nearly a half-minute up on rival Katerina Nash (Luna).
Fast and furious
The course in Pilsen was a fast, dry 2.6km affair, with plenty of twisting and turning, two barriers, a few short rideable climbs and that steep staircase run-up.
All the usual suspects were in the mix in the early going. With seven laps to race the lead group included Nys, Stybar, Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Steve Chainel (FdJ), Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant). Powers, Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) and Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus).
Pauwels and Stybar took a little daylight after the barrier section, which most of the lead group was bunny-hopping. They quickly took a five-second gap over Nys, who in turn had a slight gap over the rest of the chase.
Stybar was content to let Pauwels lead the way, and with six laps to go Nys was closing in on the leaders. Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) was not having a stellar outing — the Belgian champion was sitting 10th with Powers 11th and Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) 15th.
Nys caught the two leaders and sat in as Stybar shared the work with Pauwels.
Behind Aernouts tried to escape the chase — Vantornout and Wellens soon joined him and that threesome was just five seconds back at the staircase. They would get no closer.
The chase crumbles
With five laps to go the chase was eight seconds in arrears. All three leaders were hopping the barriers as behind only Vantornout dismounted to run. At the staircase the chase was 11 seconds down and steadily giving ground.
Four to go and a second trio was closing in on the chase — Albert, Francis Mourey (FdJ) and Chainel. Powers was just behind. Despite the additional horsepower the pursuit was fading as the leaders extended their advantage to 20 seconds, with Pauwels in the driver’s seat, Nys second and Stybar third.
With three to go Nys finally took the front. Albert led the chase through the start-finish 20 seconds later. Wellens dropped out of the chase with a mechanical, running to the pits, but Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) had made the group.
Going into the staircase Pauwels had retaken the lead with Nys and Stybar following. Stybar took the front going through the start-finish with two laps to go and once again Nys parked himself at the back.
Albert continued to lead the five-man chase, but they were out of the hunt.
Stybar’s legs v. Nys’ brains
Stybar abruptly twisted the throttle, taking a couple of bike lengths going into the barriers. But Pauwels and Nys hung tough, keeping the world champion within reach, and he dialed it down a notch, letting Pauwels slip back into the lead. The three were locked together as they ran the staircase and rode through the start-finish into the bell lap.
Stybar punched it on the pavement but couldn’t shake the others. He continued to lay down little accelerations coming out of corners, into the barriers and onto anything like a climb, but Pauwels and Nys stuck with him.
Then he seemed to ease off a bit, apparently secure in his ability to out-sprint the others. And Nys, knowing this all too well, came forward, perhaps to slow the pace a bit.
Stybar was having none of that. He slipped past, led the way up the stairs — and then suddenly Nys snaked past on the slight incline following the run-up and hit the pavement first, taking the win and the World Cup lead ahead of Pauwels with Stybar third. Mourey was best of the rest in fourth with Vantornout fifth.
- 1. Sven Nys (Bel), 1:06:08
- 2. Kevin Pauwels (Bel),
- 3. Zdenek Stybar (Cze), 1:06:11
- 4. Francis Mourey (Fra), 1:06:45
- 5. Klaas Vantornout (Bel), 1:06:46
- 1. Katherine Compton (USA), 40:37
- 2. Sanne Van Paassen (Ned), 40:55
- 3. Katerina Nash (Cze), 41:04
- 4. Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned), 41:20
- 5. Helen Wyman (Gbr), 41:53