Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) bested world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step) at the Cyclocross GVA Trofee Ronse on Sunday.
Pauwels and Stybar had been locked in a two-man tussle for more than six laps, with Belgian champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) chasing along in third.
Pauwels had been doing the lion’s share of the work on the undulating, grassy course, which seemed always to be either rising or falling, with plenty of steep, rideable climbs, fast descents and two stout run-ups.
In the finale, Stybar was on Pauwels’ wheel, apparently confident of beating him in a two-up sprint.
But the Sunweb rider accelerated in a transition from from pavement to grass and opened a slight lead.
Pauwels hit the pavement with the smallest of advantages — but it was just enough for the win. Stybar held on for second with Albert third.
Aernouts gives it a go
Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant) broke away early on and opened a gap, at one point riding heroically — and slowly — up the ridiculously sharp second run-up. But the effort cost him, and with seven laps he was part of a small group off the front.
A further selection saw Pauwels driving the pace with Stybar, Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb) on his wheel. Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) was chasing with Aernouts and Albert.
Pauwels and Stybar soon shed the other two, and they were absorbed by the Nys-Aernouts-Albert group, some 13 seconds back. With six laps to go the two leaders were out of sight of the chase, led by Albert.
Pauwels led the way in the grass, while Stybar took charge on the pavement. Behind, Nys seemed to have lost some steam, briefly losing contact with the chase.
With five laps remaining Albert had shed his companions and closed to within 10 seconds of Pauwels and Stybar. A lap later the two leaders had 17 seconds over Albert, who appeared to be fading. The Vantornout chase was 52 seconds back.
It appeared that Pauwels was planning to ride the same run that Aernouts did, perhaps gapping the world champ, but he bobbled and dismounted, Stybar right behind him.
Pauwels, Stybar fence
Then Stybar began taking charge of the pace in the grassy bits, perhaps hoping to keep the pace bearable. He led Pauwels across the line with three laps to go and Pauwels took over just past. Albert was 20 seconds back and wagging his head. The chase was 58 seconds back and out of the hunt for a podium place.
Two to go: Again Stybar led across the line, 50 minutes into the race. And again, Pauwels took charge just past it.
Albert had closed a bit, to within 17 seconds, but the second chase was more than a minute down, and Meeusen had given them the slip.
Bell lap saw the two leaders still together — but astoundingly, Albert had closed to within 10 seconds. Meeusen was at 52 seconds with Vantornout and Aernouts just behind and Nys out the back.
Stybar took charge on the final go-round, pushing the pace to keep Albert at bay, then attacked on the first run-up, getting a slight gap. But Pauwels closed it on the second run and the two men remained locked together.
Stybar conceded the front to Pauwels in the final stretch, apparently planning to blast past him on the paved finishing stretch. But Pauwels wasn’t waiting for a sprint — he gave it the gas, and the gap he opened was just a little bit too big for the world champ to close.
- 1. Kevin Pauwels (Bel), 1:01:14
- 2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze), 1:01:16
- 3. Niels Albert (Bel), 1:01:34
- 4. Tom Meeusen (Bel), 1:02:08
- 5. Klaas Vantornout (Bel), 1:02:14