By Brecht Decaluwé in Erpe-Mere
The first international cyclo-cross of the season in Erpe-Mere, Belgium was a test case for the big guns in this so-called winter sport. With warm weather and a dry course there were unusual conditions but only the riders complained about this while the large crowd enjoyed the sun (and their beers).
In a tactical race that was dominated by the two biggest cyclo-cross teams, Rabobank and Fidea, the flowers were eventually captured by Niels Albert (Palmans). The blonde youngster didn't react when Zdenek Stybar and Klaas Vantornout (Fidea) tried to make the selection, saving his energy for the final lap.
"I wanted to be riding in the top two when entering the last lap," Albert explained to Cyclingnews after the finish. "Suddenly I had a gap although I didn't really attack." Asked if he was exploiting the rivalry between Rabobank and Fidea, the 21 year-old replied: "I was riding very strong in that last lap and I guess nobody could really come back on me. I was suffering when there were some accelerations, so I guess I still have a physical deficit on the others."
"Nevertheless," he continued, "I managed to pull off a two-on-two this year [Albert also won a national race in Dudzele last week], knowing that I only won four races last year you can tell I am a happy man."
So far, it has been close but no cigar for Klaas Vantornout, just like last week in the national race at Dudzele he was confronted with a smart Niels Albert. "I tried a couple of times, just like Stybar and when he attacked I dropped a gap to make the Rabobank team work a bit," explained Vantornout of the Fidea tactics, which ultimately didn't pay off as Albert profited from the rivalry.
"Nys allowed Niels [Albert] to ride away, he was probably frustrated about our tactics," Vantornout smiled. "Anyway, I was already feeling very well before today and now I'm feeling even better. Halfway through October I should be at my best but I'm already very strong now."