HASSELT, Belgium (VN) — Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) kept his cool after one bad ride through the sand to take the Bpost Bank Trophy round at Hasselt on Saturday.
With five laps remaining Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) had opened a gap over the Belgian champion, who briefly struggled in the second of two sand pits. But Nys kept his cool, chased back on and awaited his chance — which came when Pauwels crashed while trying to bunny-hop the double barriers, shoulder to shoulder with Nys, with three laps to go.
“I went a little slower in the tree trunks and Nys was faster and he just bumped me … I went right to the ground,” said Pauwels. “I think that if he wasn’t there I would have stayed upright. He didn’t do it on purpose, but it is so. I saw his hand signal to be excused, so it’s already forgotten.”
With Pauwels out of the picture, Nys concentrated on shedding Albert. He took a slight edge with a powerful push through the sand, expanded it at the barriers and took an eight-second advantage into the bell lap.
In the finale, Nys won the GP Hasselt by 14 seconds over the world champ, while Pauwels recovered to take third at 30 seconds.
Nys blasts off
Nys got off to a fast start, grabbing the holeshot, as behind, a crash in the first right-hand bend slowed a handful of riders.
Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb) then took the front ahead of Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea), Pauwels, Radomir Simunek (BKCP), Nys and Bart Aernouts (AA Drink). The usual suspects headed a long line of riders early in the lap, with most of the leaders hopping the barriers.
The rolling, sinuous 3km course had a little bit of everything — short flyovers, a grassy, leaf-strewn track, two long sand pits and those double barriers. There was almost no running, save for a short, tight S-shaped uphill corner.
Going into lap two Peeters replaced Vantornout on the front with Nys third wheel as they hit the first sand pit for the second time. Going through the barriers Peeters gassed it and Nys went with him, leaving Vantornout chasing with Simunek. The change of pace trimmed the lead group to nine riders.
With six laps to go Vantornout was driving. Albert moved forward to second wheel, then took the lead late in the lap. Peeter sat in second with Nys third.
The fast pace saw Albert, Peeters, Nys and Pauwels put a bit of daylight between themselves and the others, but by lap’s end they found themselves with another seven riders for company.
Albert then took the front, opening a slight gap over Nys. The Belgian champ followed with Pauwels, but Peeters and Simunek were gapped.
Struggling in the sand
The world champion was looking strong, and Nys was having trouble holding his wheel. Then going through the second sand pit Nys struggled slightly and Albert took a sizable lead, with Pauwels moving into second.
With four laps to go Albert led Pauwels through the start-finish. Nys followed five seconds later with Simunek and Aernouts just behind.
Pauwels was content to let Albert set the pace as Nys closed the gap to three seconds, and it seemed clear that this would be the podium — although the order had yet to be determined.
Nys had regained his sand chops and was gaining on the leaders. As Pauwels led Albert across the line with three to go the Belgian champion was two seconds back while Bart Wellens (Telenet) led a big chase at 20 seconds down.
By the first sand pit Nys had rejoined Albert and Pauwels. The Sunweb rider gave it the gas, taking a bit of an edge, but he couldn’t hold it, and soon the three were back together with Nys in second wheel.
Pauwels botches his bunny-hop
Then Pauwels crashed going over the second barrier while riding shoulder to shoulder with Nys, on the far left side of the track. Nys did a bit of a nose wheelie, his rear wheel in the air, but stayed upright, and Albert also dodged the fallen Pauwels — and just like that it was a two-man race, with Nys waving to Pauwels as if to say, “Nothing personal.”
When he got back on the bike Pauwels was already eight seconds down. Then Nys floored it through the sand and disposed of Albert, taking sole possession of the lead with two laps remaining.
Albert fought back up to Nys, but the Belgian champ was much faster over the barriers and cracked the gap open once again. Behind, undeterred by his spill, Pauwels rode both barriers cleanly the next time through, but he was locked into third for the day.
Nys gave it one more big push through the sand and hammed Albert firmly into second. By bell lap he had an eight-second gap over the fading rainbow jersey, and by the finish he had tacked on another six seconds for insurance. Pauwels held on for third, and while he seemed angry on the podium, he was diplomatic in speaking with the press afterward.
“I might have gone a little too diagonally [over the barriers],” he conceded. “At first I went a little bit closer, then Sven came up and it was all over. …”
Albert still leads the series with a time of 2:52:34, but with his victory at Hasselt Nys has closed to 20 seconds on the overall. Pauwels is third at 2:38.