Defending champion Kevin Pauwels won a thriller on Saturday at the GVA Trofee Hasselt.
The Sunweb-Revor rider was off the front as part of a powerful foursome that included world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step), Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea).
The four seemed evenly matched in the final laps, attacking, chasing and countering one another, but none could gain an indisputable advantage. They hit the paved finishing section in a bunch.
Stybar was first to make his move, but he couldn’t escape the others. As they rounded the final right-hand corner onto the finishing straight Pauwels gave it the gas, taking the slightest of gaps.
Stybar fought to close it, but fell just short thanks to Pauwels’ last-second bike throw at the line. Nys hung on for the final spot on the podium.
After losing to Stybar here in 2009, Pauwels said, “I knew I had to take the final turn first.”
As for Stybar, he said, “Losing the sprint is always unfortunate, but Kevin was very strong today.”
The Sunweb rider, who now leads the eight-race GVA Trofee series with 81 points, said “it now looks very good for the overall classification.”
But Stybar, who remains second with 69 points, nine ahead of the third-placed Nys, said it was too soon to say whether Pauwels had clinched the title after just three races. “It’s a long season,” he noted.
Meeusen attacks early (and often)
Meeusen took the holeshot and led the way onto the 2.9km course, a rolling, winding circuit with stretches of pavement, grass and sand — three pits in all — plus three rideable flyovers and a pair of stout logs that the leaders were able to bunny-hop (most of the time, anyway).
Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb) took over as the lap unfolded with Meeusen, Stybar and Nys following. Then Stybar grabbed the front going into the second flyover, which was separated from the third by the final long sand pit.
The world champ led Vantornout and Meeusen into lap two, with a big group including Pauwels and Nys right behind.
The first half-dozen riders ran the first sand pit, though Nys was able to ride, and soon it was one long line with Meeusen on the sharp end. Then Vantornout and Pauwels took over, with Nys and Meeusen on their wheels.
Simunek stacks it, splitting the field
A sharp, steep right-hand corner clogged traffic, forcing several riders — including Nys — off their bikes. But the first big separation came courtesy of Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus) who next time through the log hop center-punched the second one and hit the deck, taking down Rob Peeters (Telenet) and splitting the field.
The mishap left a six-man group off the front: Nys, Pauwels, Vantornout, Stybar, Nys and Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus).
Going into the first flyover Nys laid down an attack that slashed the group in half going into the second flyover. Stybar and Pauwels stayed with him, and as the threesome began the third lap Vantornout was just behind, sprinting to catch on. The rest of the field followed in ones and twos.
Pauwels led through the first and second sandpits and the six-man group gradually reformed until Pauwels drilled it going past the pits and only Stybar could go with him. Nys and Vantornout were a couple seconds back, but closing.
Pauwels shows his power
This time the leaders hopped the logs cleanly, with Vanthourenhout chasing just behind. But Nys and Vantornout were having trouble in the sand, and Pauwels took a gap once more going over the third flyover. Stybar was chasing in second with Nys third and Vantornout fourth.
Pauwels rolled into six to go with four seconds’ advantage over Stybar as Nys led a four-man chase a few seconds further back. Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant), who got off to a slow start, led a second chase at 24 seconds.
Stybar rejoined Pauwels in the first sand pit. They had three seconds over Nys with Meeusen. Vantornout and Vanthourenhout just behind. The gaps narrowed as the lap dragged on and soon the six were back together — until Vantornout bobbled that tight right-hand corner and briefly blocked Meeusen and Vanthourenhout.
Despite Pauwels’ relentless accelerations the six came back together again going into the second flyover. Then the next sand pit set everyone afoot save the Sunweb rider, who powered into five laps to go with a two-second gap over the others. Aernouts, meanwhile, had closed to within 15 seconds of the lead group.
At the first sand pit Stybar shot forward with Meeusen on his wheel. Pauwels slipped to third as Nys dangled slightly behind in fourth. Vantornout and Vanthourenhout were off the back with Aernout and Bart Wellens (Telenet) closing.
Stybar unfurls the rainbow flag
When Pauwels bungled the right-hander and blocked Nys suddenly it was Stybar and Meeusen off the front. Pauwels was chasing solo and Nys was back with Vantornout and Vanthourenhout.
Everyone hopped the logs cleanly and by the following flyover Stybar led Meeusen and Pauwels, with Nys chasing solo at three seconds and Vanthourenhout just behind.
Then Stybar bobbled in the sand past the flyover and Meeusen seized his opportunity. Pauwels was quickly on him, leaving Stybar and Nys chasing.
With four to go Pauwels led Meeusen with Stybar two seconds back and Nys and Vanthourenhout a few seconds further behind.
Once again Pauwels opened a slight lead going into the second sand pit. Meeusen was chasing, trailed by Stybar, Nys and Vanthourenhout. This quintet gradually regrouped with Vantornout perhaps three seconds down at the right-hander and looking tired.
Meeusen won’t surrender
Then Meeusen gassed it just ahead of the logs — everyone cleaned them and the pace ramped up. Pauwels latched on and the two gapped Stybar and the others. Nys was chasing with Vanthourenhout, and Vantornout seemed done.
The determined Meeusen attacked a third time in the next sand pit and took three seconds from Pauwels, who quickly took them back. Stybar latched back on as the leaders hit the pavement, followed by Nys, and with three laps remaining it was a four-man lead group, with Vantornout dangling and Aernouts still some 14 seconds down and on his own.
Vantornout fought back up to the leaders and suddenly Vanthourenhout seemed to be suffering as Meeusen drove the group. Not so Aernouts, who had the lead group in sight as they raced past the pits.
Then Stybar took the front going into the right-hander and gave it the gas. Vantornout botched the turn, leaving a three-man group off the front — Stybar, Pauwels and Meeusen — with Nys chasing solo in fourth.
Aernout loses it at the logs
Then Aernouts took his own header at the logs, Vantornout crashed into him, and that was all she wrote for the pursuit. The winner would come from the lead quartet.
Again Meeusen drilled it in the sand, taking a gap over Stybar, who dismounted to run then chased back on with Pauwels and Nys. With two to go, Vanthourenout was just behind the four leaders.
Finally Nys came forward, taking the lead and attacking through the first sand pit. Stybar rode it cleanly, grabbed his wheel, and the two were away with Meeusen third and Pauwels fourth at the second sand pit. They had perhaps three seconds at the pits — then Stybar botched the right-hander and left Nys in sole possession of the lead.
But not for long — the foursome reformed at the logs. Nys led Stybar, Meeusen and Pauwels over the first flyover, then the second. Nys accelerated through the subsequent sand pit and took Stybar with him. Meeusen and Pauwels fell back, perhaps four seconds behind at the final flyover.
Going into the bell lap it was once again a foursome up front with Stybar leading. Vanthourenout was hanging on to fifth at 15 seconds.
Pauwels slipped into second in the second sand pit and Nys dropped to third. Stybar jumped as they raced into the pits and got a bit of daylight, but Nys slammed the window shut at the right-hander and Meeusen got back on too.
Meeusen nearly misses
On their final trip over the logs Meeusen nearly came undone, unclipping his right shoe on the second log and wobbling leftward, but all four leaders made it through unsacthed.
Meeusen made one final bid for glory, attacking onto the second flyover and grabbing a minuscule advantage. Then Stybar punched it into the final flyover and Pauwels was on him. The world champ powered through the last sand pit with the Sunweb rider on his wheel and Nys and Meeusen fighting to reconnect.
Nys dragged Meeusen back up to the leaders and the four hit the pavement together. Stybar gave it his all, trying to shed the others, but around the final bend and onto the finishing straight Pauwels was on the front.
He led out the sprint and took his second consecutive win here by a whisker, flinging his bike at the line. Nys and Meeusen coasted across the line for third and fourth, respectively, and Vanthourenhout hung on for fifth.
Round four of the GVA Trofee series will be the GP Rouwmoer Essen on December 17.