Despite being only two rounds into the Bpost Bank Trophy, cyclo-cross series world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) nearly has the overall win in the pocket. The former GVA-Trophy series turned their points-based general classification into a time-based system and that turns out to be a good thing for a consistent top performer like Albert.
"There are three tough races in this series where you can lose a lot of time and that's in Ronse, this one and Baal," Albert said.
The race on the Hotondberg - a stone's throw away from the Koppenberg - was won by Albert, with Pauwels finishing at short distance. Co-favourite Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) missed his start due to a not-called false start, didn't grab bonus seconds in the intermediate sprint and lost a total of 1:23 on Albert.
During the second round on Thursday Nys bounced back in the demanding Koppenbergcross. The mud, the steep gradients in the ascent of the famous Flemish pimple and the slippery twisting descent created massive time gaps. Albert controlled damages and finished at short distance from Nys. Pauwels wasn't going well and finished more than two minutes down on the leaders thus paying a high price for his off-day.
When glancing at the general classification with Cyclingnews after his ride in the Koppenbergcross, Albert quickly made his conclusion. "It's down to Sven and me for the general classification and that's after only two rounds."
Nys trails Albert by 54 seconds in the general classification after two rounds while third-placed Pauwels is 2:17 down on the world champion.
"When I got dropped I had to keep sprinting. You have to ride until the finish line. In the past I would've sit up," Albert explained. Albert took Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) as example. Vantornout finished fifth and third. "In the old system he would be only a few points behind [the trio Albert, Nys and Pauwels]," Albert said, keeping a chance on the overall win. Now he's more than three minutes down which is way too much for him to make up.
"I'm certainly not against this system. The outsiders stand less of a chance," Albert said.
The time loss of Pauwels was somewhat surprising to Albert. "This was a course for Kevin because it was possible to ride most sections. These courses don't lie and clearly he had an off-day," Albert said.
Pauwels acknowledged his run for the overall win was over after his poor race in the Koppenbergcross. "I'm disappointed. It's over for the first place. What happened? I dropped my chain in the descent but then I was already dropped by Sven and Niels. When they accelerated I knew I shouldn't try to follow. I think I had bad legs. My back was okay," Pauwels quietly told Cyclingnews at the finish line.
If Albert runs into bad luck on New Year's Day during the GP Sven Nys in Baal things might turn around again in the Bpost Bank Trophy series. "Most rounds are fast and cause little time gaps. The only race where I can still lose time is Baal," Albert stated. For now the world champion holds a comfortable lead with most of his rivals aiming at different goals on the busy cyclo-cross calendar from here.