By Brecht Decaluwé
Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) proved that he is fully recovered from a crash that took him out of competition in mid-November. The 22-year-old Belgian won the final rehearsal, the Vlaamse Witloof Veldrit in Tervuren on Sunday, one week ahead of the national championships. Albert won the race with an impressive solo effort which he initiated during the second of ten laps.
Italian "crossista" Enrico Franzoi (Liquigas) finished twenty seconds behind Albert, and Czech national champion Zdenek Stybar (Fidea Cycling Team) won the sprint for the remaining podium spot ahead of Kevin Pauwels (Fidea Cycling Team) and Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb Projob Cycling Team).
"I felt strong and wanted to make it a hard race. I was joined by Klaas and Enrico and when Klaas crashed behind me, I was able to get a couple of metres. Then one shouldn't delay, of course. It's been awhile since I was able to win. This feels good, especially ahead of the Belgian championships," Albert said to Sporza.
It was clear that not too many riders were keen on going full out during the 'cross in the royal park of Tervuren. They were saving their energy for the national championships next week. Current Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) sat back in the main group and left the initiative to riders like Albert. The latter attacked during the first lap and was joined by Franzoi and Klaas Vantornout.
The race came down to a two-man battle between Albert and Franzoi, but each lap the Belgian managed to add a couple of seconds to his advantage. Halfway through the race, Albert had twenty seconds on Franzoi and from then on, the he eased off and kept his rival at that distance.
"The last few weeks, I saw every race as training, adding additional training sessions before and after. I should be able to battle for the win next week. I can focus on one race. I've been unlucky this season, and hopefully I can make up for that at the championships," Albert said to Sporza.
Albert will do battle with defending Belgian national champion Sven Nys next weekend. Nys said he considered the day's effort a good round of intensive training leading up to the championships.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Vlaamse Witloof Veldrit.