By Brecht Decaluwé in Oudenaarde
The mythical Koppenberg will not feature in the 2008 Tour of Flanders but there is one race where the cobbled climb plays the leading part and that is the Koppenbergcross. Four-time winner Sven Nys (Rabobank) was the big favourite before the race, a position which he commonly holds, and he did not disappoint his fans.
The UCI-leader, wearing a dark blue jersey, was always near the front and when he accelerated in the third lap, only Bart Wellens (Fidea Cycling Team) and Zdenek Stybar (Fidea Cycling Team) could follow. The Fidea riders couldn't form a coalition against the Belgian and with less than three laps to go, Nys attacked a second time. Stybar resisted before dropping back while Wellens took risks on the slippery descent of the Koppenberg. The temporary result was that Wellens went over his handlebars while Stybar lost touch with Nys. Eventually Wellens managed to come back in the lead in the last lap, but Nys kept his cool and launched a fierce acceleration which was enough to clinch his fifth-ever victory in the Koppenbergcross.
"I've been waiting for a tough cross like this where we're battling against each other, and I think Bart feels the same way about it. It's exciting when we try to pass each other everywhere," Nys smiled when thinking back to the last lap of the race.
"Wellens was very fast in the descent but I realized he took risks for that advantage. I decided to descend slower but safe[r]. My advantage was that I knew where I had to be in front, I could make the difference where the power was important," the UCI points leader explained. The opposition from Wellens didn't surprise Nys despite the fact that the Belgian champion has not been riding well in recent important races. "You always need to take Wellens into account when he's having a good day. He has periods where he's less good, he's not that consistent anymore."