GAVERE, Belgium (VN) — Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) won a filthy, hard-fought battle with Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) to take Sunday’s round of the Superprestige series in Gavere.
The two men were alone in the final lap of a tremendously muddy, technical circuit, and they appeared evenly matched, neither able to take any advantage over the other.
Vantornout was in the lead, frequently looking over his shoulder at Nys, who refused to take the bait. And then the Belgian champ attacked on a steep, greasy rise that forced Vantornout off his bike.
Undaunted, Vantornout ran right by Nys, giving him a bit of left elbow for good measure as he passed — perhaps repayment for teammate Kevin Pauwel’s crash on Saturday as he and Nys jockeyed for position over the barriers at the GP Hasselt — and then Nys punched it and took the front again. Not to be denied, Vantornout replied in kind, and both men hit the pits for a final time with Vantornout leading Nys out.
The Sunweb rider immediately gassed it, but Nys responded, staying on the wheel and biding his time.
Vantornout hit the paved finishing stretch first, but he couldn’t hold his edge — Nys took the two-up sprint, leaving Vantornout to shake his head in frustration.
Behind, Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) shed a discouraged Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb) to take the final spot on the podium.
“Klaas was very strong today,” said Nys. “On the last climb I was just at my limit, so I couldn’t really put Klaas at a disadvantage. I always have to fear Kevin Pauwels in a sprint, and Lars Van Der Haar of course. But I am apparently a little more explosive this year than last year, so I can aim for the sprints, too.”
Vantornout gave credit where credit was due.
“Sven has been very, very strong the whole season and that was the problem today,” he said. “I’ve been a few times on the podium at big races this season, but with Sven so good it’s hard to get a victory. We’re both very strong, and Sven on the sprint was a little bit stronger than me.”
As for Wellens, he was delighted to have performed so admirably on a course that suited him so well.
“I already had a good feeling yesterday, but I had mechanical troubles,” he said. “Today I woke up and told my wife that if I had the same legs as yesterday I could ride top five or six today. Because I like this track, it’s very hard, it’s muddy, there’s a lot of running.
“When Sven attacked behind Klaas I went with them and thought that I really could go for top five. Then on the last two laps I saw that the podium was in reach, and I got third. I’m so happy.”
Lars Van Haar (Rabobank-Giant) got off to a strong start in heavy traffic, but it was Wellens and Vantornout who led the way down the first slippery slope. Thijs Van Amerongen (AA Drink) was sitting third with Rob Peeters (Telenet) fourth, while Nys and world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus were well back in traffic.
Nys and Pauwels began working their way forward later in the lap as Wellens took the front ahead of Van Amerongen with Peeters third and Julien Taramarcaz (BMC Racing) in hot pursuit.
As the first lap came to a close Albert was heading a chase containing Nys, Pauwels, Bart Aernouts (AA Drink), Vantornout, Gerben De Knegt and others.
Again Wellens led down the descent and into the long, sandy run. There was no real separation yet — just one long line of muddy men.
Van Amerongen took the lead in lap two, troweling muck from his face, with Wellens and Peeters on his wheel. Taramarcaz was just behind, trailed by Aernouts, Albert, Nys and Pauwels.
A mechanical took the lead from Van Amerongen — set afoot, he had to run to the pit, and Wellens and Peeters took the point with with Taramarcaz chasing.
Vantornout took over the front early in lap three, leading Van Amerongen, Taramarcaz, Aernouts, Wellens, Peeters, Albert, Nys and Pauwels.
The lanky Sunweb rider was having a great race — he soon had several seconds over Taramarcaz and the other chasers, and extended his advantage coming out of the pit. Aernouts had begun a solo pursuit, while Taramarcaz fronted the chase group behind.
With five laps to go Vantornout had 10 seconds over Aernouts while Nys led a big group of the usual suspects at 21 seconds. Parked on the Belgian champ’s wheel, Pauwels was not giving Nys any help at all in the chase, perhaps still stinging from Saturday’s battle over the barriers.
Next trip down the slippery slope and into the sand Vantornout was still firmly in command, while Nys, Pauwels and Wellens had taken some daylight over the others in the chase. Albert, clearly on an off day, was well back.
Nys led the others up to Aernouts, then took the lead and left them all behind going into the circuit’s long, steep greasy climb. Pauwels tried to follow, with Wellens chasing in third.
Ahead, Vantornout kept glancing over one shoulder to gauge the pursuit. What he saw was Nys, closing, with Pauwels third, all three men riding alone.
With four laps remaining, a half-hour into the race, Nys had rejoined Vantornout. Pauwels was chasing at nine seconds down with Wellens at twice that. Peeters and Albert were nearly a half-minute down and losing ground.
This time Nys led down into the long sandy run, but Vantornout kept him within reach as Pauwels chased doggedly in third.
Vantornout came forward and laid down his own attack on the backside of the course, but Nys stuck with him. Pauwels, meanwhile, was closing in, just a half dozen seconds down, as the leaders began lapping the back-markers.
Nys retook the lead going into the pits and suddenly Pauwels seemed to run out of steam.
A two-man race
Three laps to go: Nys and Vantornout were 15 seconds up on Pauwels, with Wellens a further 10 seconds in arrears. Peeters and Albert were 43 seconds down, and the world champ was looking whipped. Early animator Van Der Haar also seemed baked and well off the pace.
Nys and Vantornout stuck together like old pals as behind, Pauwels and Wellens and Peeters and Albert fought their own battles. Vantornout was content to let Nys set the pace, but when Nys waved through headed into two laps to go, Vantornout complied.
Pauwels followed a half-minute down with Wellens closing in. Peeters was at 50 seconds, Albert a minute down and Aernouts at 1:15.
Once he took the front, Vantornout stayed there, taking a few bike lengths over Nys at one point. Pauwels had begun having trouble riding the descents, and Wellens got in front of him.
Bell lap: Nys was on point, but Vantornout slipped around and into the lead. The Sunweb rider was seemingly the better runner and perhaps a hair better on the descents, yet the two men stayed glued together.
“I always watch the races and I don’t always see Klaas, but I do see that he always has a very fast last lap, so he didn’t surprise me there,” said Nys.
Vantornout kept looking over his shoulder at Nys, but Nys stayed on his wheel — and then attacked on that steep, slippery hill.
Forced off the bike, Vantornout put in a burst of running speed and brushed past Nys on his right, only to see the Belgian champ lay down his own surge and retake the lead.
Not to be outdone, Vantornout accelerated once more and led into and out of the final pit, bound for the finish line. These would be his final moments at the head of affairs.
Vantornout tried and failed to shed Nys on the run-in to the tarmac, and as he led out the two-up sprint the Belgian champ came around him to win by several bike lengths.
Looking absolutely spent, Wellens crossed for third, waving feebly to the crowd, with a dejected Pauwels fourth and Peeters fifth.
Nys now leads the Superprestige series with 60 points. Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) sits second overall with 52 points while Pauwels, fourth on Sunday, holds third overall with 48. The fifth round of the series will be November 25 at Gieten.
American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) rode a strong race, finishing 12th despite a terrible start that included a crash and breaking a derailleur on the first lap.
“I had so much trouble at the beginning, I hardly raced for the first four laps,” he said. “I had people falling in front of me, going sideways so I had to get off my line. I just had to be a little patient. But Franky [Page’s mechanic] and I discussed before the race just to pick a rhythm and keep going forward if things didn’t go very well at the start. And in the race I said to Franky, “I’m okay and everyone else isn’t.” So once I had some space to start moving forward, I was very happy to finally have some legs to actually move forward.
“This is really good for my head that I finally showed I can ride my bike again. I’ve been lucky enough to have people supporting me. It’s been hard, but I’ve had to keep confidence in myself, and it’s hard to have confidence in yourself when it’s not going well. So I feel really good after today. If I can do it again next week then I’ll really believe things are coming around.”
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.