It's been a very long time since cyclo-cross had a direct duel between two riders until the last round of one of the major series. In Oostmalle, Belgian veteran Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) and young wolf Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) faced each other in the last round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy. Going into the eighth and last round Pauwels trailed Nys by only two points, while 28 points were at stake in Oostmalle. One hour later Nys jumped into the arms of his soigneur.
"This is a revenge for what happened in Pijnacker back in 2004. My defeat there gave me so much adrenaline today," Nys said. During the final sprint of that World Cup race Nys was suddenly passed by almost all of his so-called Belgian team-mates, making him lose out on the overall win in the World Cup. "This was the same situation and this time even in the lion's den. It was me against the rest. Nobody could ride away except if it was tactical. I couldn't allow Pauwels and another Fidea-rider ahead of me," Nys talked tactics before explaining he wanted to come out winning more than anything else. "This wasn't about the price money at stake but about the honour of winning. I've won two series this year so I'm supper happy," Nys said.
A few metres further back Pauwels was left fuming about the tactics used by the 'cannibal' from Baal. "I tried everything I could but the way Sven rode... I'm pissed. He rode flat out on the straight sections and then as slow as he could in the corners. It was very annoying to ride like that. I couldn't do anything. If I were him I would not have ridden like that," Pauwels said.
Nys didn't understand the annoyance from his timid compatriot and explained that he simply used the weapons he had against the Telenet-Fidea army. "I didn't make any mistakes and led the group when I had to lead it; in the sand nobody could overtake me anyway. I think it was a fair fight. Guys like Stybar and Wellens clearly rode for Kevin while they rode in a position to grab second place. In the last lap I had to set my elbow to get passed Stybar. Kevin punctured in the last lap but even without that mechanical I was in an ideal position to come out winning," Nys said. That's a debatable statement as both Nys and Pauwels featured in the group that sprinted for second place. If Pauwels won that sprint and Nys didn't finish right behind him, Pauwels would've won the overall classification. But then Nys put the finger on the sore spot. "I wanted to make Kevin nervous. I can handle this kind of pressure and knew what I was doing," Nys said.
While Pauwels was angry right after the race he started admitting his mistakes as the interview evolved. "Early on I felt the stress. The goal for the intermediate sprint was to take as many points as possible," Pauwels said. A problem with his rear brake put him out of contention for that sprint as he needed to hop off his bike to get it fixed. "My heart failed me in the second lap when things started going wrong. When starting the lap I was boxed in and ended up riding at the back of the group and then I made a mistake and hit my rear brake. I had to fix it right away as it was too late to get points anyway and I needed the brakes in the forest," Pauwels said.
Although he was able to bounce back into the main group, Pauwels never got back into his rhythm. "I'm angry about the way he [Nys] rode. I don't feel like I've just raced. I never dug deep or raced flat out," Pauwels said.
A few moments later Pauwels stated an unbelievable feat. "I didn't know it was the last lap. I lost track of the lap count and didn't know we were heading for the final sprint. Suddenly everybody was standing there. If I would've known that I surely would've sprinted for a better result," Pauwels said. He finished ninth in Oostmalle while a sixth place was surely possible. The poor result made him tumble from second to third place overall.
The difference in price money between first and third place is huge: €14500. Added to that was a bonus of €10000 from his own team while we're not even talking about start money for the next season. "I don't care about the money. It was about winning the series," Pauwels said. Clearly the pressure had taken down the 26 year-old Belgian. "This felt like a championships race. Maybe Sven was just better than me," Pauwels said. Just like Sven Nys remembered his disastrous outcome of the World Cup back in 2004 Pauwels will remember this day for a very long time. A major difference was the team support which Nys lacked in Pijnacker. "The team did all they could but maybe they should not have done that and ridden their own race," Pauwels said.