Over the past several weeks Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) has maneuvered himself into the forefront of the European cyclo-cross scene. Pauwels currently leads two of the three major competitions and the quiet Belgian has won the last two major races in Belgium: the Koppenbergcross on Tuesday and today on the Hotondberg, the highest point in East Flanders, in the Gazet van Antwerpen (GVA) Trophy-Ronse.
After his win in Ronse, Belgium the 27-year-old stated he hopes to win at least one of the competitions while expecting that his form would stay at least as high as its current level.
Never one to boast, Pauwels is cautious about his chances to prevail in the GVA Trophy even though he currently has a 10-point lead over Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). "Last year I was well classified in the GVA, too, but in the end I was only third," Pauwels said. "I'm leading the World Cup, too, and I'm well positioned in the Superprestige series.
"I hope to win at least one of the three competitions. It doesn't matter which one but if I have to choose the World Cup is the one because it's more prestigious, it has a more international esteem with for example the French riders competing in it," Pauwels said.
Until this year Pauwels' racing style was as spectacular as his quiet demeanor when off the bike. This year, however, things have changed. Whereas Pauwels used to sit at the back of a group during a race to await the sprint he now puts his rivals under pressure with long accelerations.
"Not much has changed. I'm a bit stronger this year," Pauwels said.
Belgian champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) felt it was only logical that Pauwels has stepped up this year. "Hats off for Kevin, but he's 28 [sic, actually 27-ed.] and it was to be expected that he would have a cracking year sooner or later. It turns out this is his year," Albert said.
While Former world champion Erwin Vervecken – currently working for race organizer Golazo – expects Pauwels to drop some positions once the cyclo-cross courses get muddier, Belgian champion Albert doesn't expect Pauwels to disappear from the front rows. "If he can win here (Ronse) and on the Koppenberg he'll be able to deal with the mud, too," Albert said.
Last year Pauwels was teammates with Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step Cycling Team) and the current world champion was pleased to see how Pauwels has fared this season. "We just came off the podium and it was unbelievable to see how popular Kevin is. It's good for cyclo-cross. He's a low-profile guy who's beating the best and today there were never that many people shouting his name," Stybar said.
"There's not much to do against Kevin nowadays. He's the best at the moment and when you're the best you can ride away from the rest whenever you want. Personally, I need a few more races to get the feeling on the bike back in order. My form is good but technically I'm riding like a beginner. Last year I was the fastest on the descent of the Koppenberg and this year I must've been the slowest," Stybar said.
Pauwels' Sunweb-Revor teammate Klaas Vantornout wasn't surprised at all by the high form of his team leader and he doesn't expect Pauwels to lose ground on his rivals. "Kevin will be good all season long. It was obvious to me that he would be good when I saw him riding this summer," Vantornout said.
His second place during the opening round of the World Cup in Plzen halfway October was the prelude of the steps Pauwels has taken. Since then Pauwels not only joined the cyclo-cross G-3 (Nys, Albert and Stybar) but he has - at least temporary - overshadowed them.