HOOGSTRATEN, Belgium (VN) — Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) prevailed in a muddy, two-up battle with Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) to take the penultimate round of the Superprestige series on Sunday.
The race boiled down to a two-man contest with just over three laps remaining on a heavy, challenging course that seemed always to be either rising or falling, with plenty of running sections and several sketchy descents.
On the final lap each man launched attack after attack, but nothing stuck. Nys tried a final surge on the last heavy section leading to the pavement, but found himself second coming onto the paved finish stretch, and it seemed that Vantornout would win the day.
But when he rose to sprint there was nothing left in his legs, and the world champion came around the Belgian champion to take what in the end seemed a very easy victory indeed.
U.S. champion Jonathan Page rode strongly to 10th on the day, 2:10 down.
Simunek starts fast
Radomir Simunek (Kwadro-Stannah) took the lead on the muddy, snow-bordered circuit before Martin Bina (CEZ Cyklo Team Tabor) took over, followed by Thijs Van Amerongen (AA Drink).
Vantornout, Nys and Albert were comfortably in the top 10.
Peeters moved into second as Vantornout slipped into third on the heavy, demanding course, and as the first lap concluded Bina led a group containing Vantornout, Van Amerongen, Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) and Nys. Albert had slipped back to a group with Page, perhaps feeling the effects of a long solo ride to victory the day before in the Bpost Bank Trofee series round at Lille.
Nys moves up
On the second lap Nys pushed forward to join Vantornout and Bina at the front, followed by Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus), forging a four-man lead group.
Vantornout stayed on the front, Bina glued to his wheel. Nys sat third, with Walsleben just behind.
As Vantornout pitted Bina assumed the lead. Behind, Pauwels crashed and got up limping, but remounted and continued.
The end of lap two saw Nys on the front, leading Vantornout, Bina and Walsleben, with Peeters trying to reconnect some 10 seconds down. Page was in a small group a half minute down, while Albert had slid still further behind, to 40 seconds down.
Vantornout takes charge
The Belgian champion reasserted himself and put a few bike lengths on the others, his pace stringing out the lead foursome.
Nys slipped into second on the lap, and shortly after the leaders saw four to go the two champions left the others behind.
Each spent the rest of the race trying to find a weakness to exploit in the other as behind, Pauwels rode up to Peeters and Walsleben to begin a three-way battle for the final spot on the podium.
Vantornout was feeling the cold in his hands as he led Nys across the line with two laps remaining. The world champ made a move coming off a slippery descent, shoulder to shoulder with Vantornout, then rode a subsequent climb the Belgian champ had to run, taking a few bike lengths. He pitted for a fresh bike and Vantornout latched back on.
Attack and counter
The two kept trading the lead throughout the lap, neither able to break the other. Both men grabbed spare bikes at the next pit, fought through the last muddy straight to the pavement and rode in tandem into the bell lap.
Behind, Pauwels led Walslben and Peeters in the battle for third. Albert remained out of contention, 1:24 off the pace.
Vantornout came forward early in the final go-round, and Nys tried to repeat his move of the previous lap. This time both men were able to ride the hill and Vantornout retook the lead.
Thrust and parry
Both skipped the first pit, staying glued together, Vantornout on the front. Nys attacked over a climb and onto a run-up, but his rival matched his pace, then made a move of his own on a flat section. Nys jumped once again, rocketing through a left-hander and onto the final heavy section leading to the finishing straight, the two men weaving from border to border on the muddy, grassy stretch.
It seemed that Nys didn’t quite have the legs for the finale — Vantornout hit the pavement first, glanced over one shoulder and prepared for a two-up sprint that never really happened. Nys took the win, with Vantornout second and a resurgent Pauwels crossing alone for third.
Nys leads the Superprestige series with 98 points. Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), sixth on Sunday, sits second with 88, tied on points with Pauwels. The last round of the Superprestige series will be February 16 in Middelkerke.