Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) captured the win in the 'cross World Cup in Koksijde on Saturday in style, steaming forward, setting a blistering pace and making it impossible for his rivals to make up ground after being dropped. During the fourth of nine laps, Albert was gone for good in the Koksijde dunes.
It was the Belgian's third win in Koksijde. In 2010, he won the World Cup round, and in 2012, he grabbed his second world championship title there.
"The trick here is not to blow up in the sand sections. If you exit them at 100 percent, then you've got nothing left to keep the pace high at the sections in between the sand," said Albert. "I kept some margin while running. I wasn't planning to ride myself to death in the deep sand."
Albert was in a good mood on Saturday. It showed in the way he finished, copying the legendary finish of Paul Herijgers at the 1994 cyclo-cross world championships. He waved his hands and hopped on and off his bike.
"That wasn't planned," said Albert of his finishing display. "Koksijde is a bit from Paul and a bit from me. He also showed his chest? The finish line isn't that long any more, there was no time."
When asked about arch rival Sven Nys, who didn't fare well in Koksijde, Albert had a joke ready. "I haven't seen him today except at our car just a moment ago."
Another joke was at the expense of his unlucky teammate, Wietse Bosmans, who crashed hard in the penultimate lap. "I hope he's well. He's very important for our training camp. A concussion? That seems very unlikely to me. Hey, he'll understand when he's better. I don't have a lot of brains either."
Speaking of how important it is to him to race in Koksijde, Albert said, "To me, this race is like coming home. It's a special feeling to ride around here. It's a course that doesn't lie. Most of the times people refer to Asper-Gavere or the Koppenbergcross as the toughest of courses, but this one's special. It's different. It's better not to underestimate it."
After his world championships win in 2012, Albert received honorary citizenship in Koksijde. Despite his love for the coastal town, Albert ran into trouble on Saturday morning. Before the race, Albert received a parking fine when he briefly visited the beach. "I've only been away for five minutes. Those people just do their jobs, but it's the way it happened. Maybe I can get a free parking ticket from the mayor?" Albert speculated.
After some lackluster performances last month, Albert went through some hard times. A few weeks later, he was reborn with a good ride in Zonhoven, the win in Hamme-Zogge and now this demonstration in Koksijde.
"My form's been good for awhile now. Without bad luck, I would've been a factor in Asper-Gavere, too, possibly helping out teammate Philipp Walsleben. It's great to head over to Spain with these sensations. After my... let's call it overtraining, I've been resting and scheduling trainings well. The upcoming two weeks are all important for the Belgian championships. During the Christmas races, there's only time for recovery."
Not so long ago, Albert claimed that he was out of contention for the general classification in all cyclo-cross series, but things turned around in the World Cup. After his win in Koksijde, Albert is now fourth overall at only 32 points off leader Lars van der Haar (Rabobank Development Team). "I've said that the classifications were over in the way that it's no longer in my hands. Now it depends on others how high I can place. As long as I can take points instead of losing some, it'll be alright. I can't fail anymore."
His mission to do well in the series will continue on Sunday in Gieten. The Superprestige race in the north of Netherlands suits Albert well. "I've never lost a race in Gieten. It's a tough trip, and it'll be a matter of who recovers best."