World champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step) rode a huge group of favorites off his wheel and soloed to victory in the Superprestige Hamme-Zogge on Sunday.
The redesigned course was dry and fast, with short, rideable climbs, two staircase runs and two flyovers, one a real monster that started with a rideable ramp and segued into a staircase run.
A group of 12 had formed up with seven laps to go containing all the usual suspects: Stybar, Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor), Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus) and Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant), among others..
Nys and Pauwels tried to whittle the group down without success, and with six laps remaining it looked like anyone’s race.
Then Stybar exploded out of the group, opening up a huge gap, perhaps six seconds. After a moment’s hesitation Albert came forward to lead the chase with Nys on his wheel. But by the giant flyover the world champ had extended his lead to nine seconds.
Next time through the start-finish, 35 minutes into the race, Stybar was out of sight, his lead up to 20 seconds, as Vanthourenhout led the chase across the line.
With four laps remaining the chase was losing ground, nearly a half-minute down. Nys accelerated, taking Albert with him, and the two left the others in their dust.
Forty-seven minutes into the race Nys and Albert still trailed Stybar by two dozen seconds with three laps to go. Vantornout led the others 10 seconds further in arrears.
Pauwels and Aernouts were closing on the two chasers but no one was threatening Stybar, who held firmly to an advantage of 25 seconds with two laps remaining and showed no signs of slowing down. Pauwels fought his way up to Nys and Albert, but Aernouts couldn’t make the bridge and remained a few seconds behind with a second chase group.
Nys punched it, trying to rid himself of Albert and Pauwels, and the Belgian champ seemed to struggle slightly, slipping behind Pauwels at the monster flyover. Nys accelerated again, but Albert hung on, and Nys gestured angrily at Pauwels, who having just bridged up was not eager to share the work.
Eventually Pauwels did take the front, but Stybar was taking the bell lap, 27 seconds ahead, and the chasing threesome began thinking about the arrangement of the remaining places on the podium as they crossed the line.
Nys retook the lead, with Pauwels and Albert following, the Belgian champ always dangling slightly off the back.
And then he was off the back for real as Nys gave it the gas, taking Pauwels along with him going into the monster flyover. Pauwels led Nys past the pits and then laid down a few accelerations of his own on an undulating section, taking a slight lead as the two approached the paved finish.
Stybar took the win, punching the air, and Pauwels led out the sprint for second, pipping a tiring Nys. Albert finished fourth with Radomir Simunek fifth.
In women’s racing, meanwhile, Daphny Van Den Brand (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) took the victory by 18 seconds over runner-up Pauline Ferrand Prevot (AC Bazancourt) and third-placed Sanne Cant (BKCP-Powerplus).
Americans Amy Dombroski (Crank Brothers) and Christine Vardaros (Baboco-Revor) both finished in the top 20, with Dombroski ninth at 1:20 and Vardaros 15th at 3:04.
- 1. Zdenek Stybar (Cze), 1:04:20
- 2. Kevin Pauwels (Bel), 1:04:29
- 3. Sven Nys (Bel), 1:04:29
- 4. Niels Albert (Bel), 1:04:51
- 5. Radomir Simunek (Cze), 1:04:53
- 1. Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned), 40:35
- 2. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Fra), 40:53
- 3. Sanne Cant (Bel), 40:53
- 4. Sabrina Stultiens (Ned), 40:53
- 5. Sophie De Boer (Ned), 40:53