ZOLDER (VN) — Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) beat Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) in the closing minutes of the World Cup round in Zolder on Wednesday, taking the series lead for good measure.
Going into the bell lap the two were off the front with a considerable advantage over a chase containing Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Radomir Simunek (BKCP).
Neither seemed able to gain an advantage over the other, but Nys softened up the world champion with a few sharp attacks and then blasted away from him at the top of a tough, technical S-shaped climb that he chose to run while Albert rode.
The Belgian champ railed the next sandy descent, instantly opening a five-second gap, and Albert visibly deflated. As Nys drove on to the victory, Albert shifted into cruise control, coasting across the line 17 seconds later for second place.
Behind, former world champion Stybar attacked the chase to finish third at 33 seconds.
“With the rain every lap it was getting harder and harder,” said Nys. “I tried to have a gap in the downhill. Normally I can win a sprint against Niels, but you never know. I prefer to have a gap before the sprint.”
He did, and shortly thereafter Nys had the World Cup leader’s jersey, too, tied on points with Albert at 415 apiece. Pauwels remains third with 389.
Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) was the top American, finishing 23rd at 3:11.
“It was really fast,” said Page. “Basically I had a crappy start and c’est la vie. It’s nice to be the fastest American, but it’s very hard to beat them on their home turf. I had pretty good legs today, but the result just isn’t really good.”
Chilly day, hot start
It was a chilly, windy day in Zolder, with light rain and wind as the men took the course.
The speedy Lars Van Der Haar (Rabobank) took the holeshot ahead of Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), while Pauwels — winner of Sunday’s World Cup round at Namur — had a bad start and found himself outside the top 20.
Stybar, Van Der Haar and Meeusen traded the lead early on, while Vantornout crashed on a sandy descent.
Albert took over late in lap two as the rain increased, with Meeusen second and Nys gapped slightly in third. Then Steve Chainel (FDJ-BigMat) took a tumble and split the chase, putting Pauwels further behind.
With seven laps remaining Albert was on point, followed by Meeusen and Nys. Simunek was right behind them, chased by Stybar, Van Der Haar and Bart Aernouts (AA Drink).
Nys finds his legs
The world champion was railing it, and Nys seemed to be having trouble holding the wheel. But that didn’t last long — as the second chase containing Pauwels closed in on the first, Nys found his legs and it was Meeusen who was in trouble.
With six to go Albert led Nys, with Meeusen third some 10 seconds down and the Pauwels group at twice that, with Simunek stuck in the middle.
The various chases would come together and then shatter again as the laps ticked down, but the leaders would not be caught. Their advantage secure, Nys began taking little digs that forced Albert to chase back on, again and again.
The one that stuck came on an S-shaped ascent that veered left, then right. There were two lines — one high, one low — and neither man had found any advantage there, whether riding or running.
But on the bell lap, Nys ran it and opened a gap on Albert. Back on the bike, he accelerated into a wicked, sandy downhill and that was that. The win — and the World Cup lead — would be his.
For Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who wound up 28th at 3:52, it was one of those days.
“I had a really good start, but the first time down the long, steep descent I crashed, lost my chain, so I think I got passed by two more people before the run-up, and then at the top I had like 10 seconds of gear-grinding, and got passed by five more people, and all of the sudden I was in the mid-30s,” he said. “But my legs felt fine. But I did end up crashing like four or five more times, and each time was totally spectacular, like, leave my bike like 20 meters back.
“The lesson I had to remind myself is that everyone crashes, everyone makes mistakes, and if you pretend that perfect is the only way to be successful you’re not going to be successful.”
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.