With another cyclo-cross weekend behind, it's clear that the elite men's scene in Europe is currently dominated by two riders: world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony). Sunweb-Revor riders Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout have repeatedly fallen short in their battle against the protagonists and at the team's home race in Hamme-Zogge things turned awkward when neither made the podium.
For years team manager Mettepenningen has been hoping that one of his riders would claim the win in his race but once again he stepped up to the podium congratulating another rider. It was a disappointed man who spoke with the press at the finish line.
"I have no problem with the win from Sven Nys. He was the best today. It's the fifth place which tastes sour. I'm disappointed because Kevin is only fifth despite finding a course that suits him well. I also expected that Klaas could stand by him much longer. I don't blame them though," Mettepenningen said.
After strong performances last year, Pauwels was tipped to challenge Nys and Albert this season, but the quiet Belgian hasn't really been able to live up to those high expectations. Since his win at the World Cup in Tabor his victory list has been blank. Both Pauwels and Vantornout skipped the Jaarmarktcross in Niel on Saturday, hoping they would be more fresh for the race organized by Mettepenningen on Sunday.
Things didn't quite turn out the way they expected. The 'cross peloton raised their shields against the Sunweb-Revor riders who collapsed under the pressure. Nys won and claimed he gained strength from the Sunweb tactics. Pauwels and Vantornout finished a distant fifth and sixth in Hamme-Zogge.
The absence of both Pauwels and Vantornout in Niel on Saturday wasn't well received in the small cyclo-cross peloton. After the muddy, demanding race in Niel both Nys and Albert already expressed their annoyance.
Vantornout regretted the decision when talking before the start in Hamme-Zogge. "The course in Niel was perfect for me and I also lost out on a lot of start money," Vantornout said while showing signs of sickness. Pauwels didn't have one clear answer. In front of the television cameras he said he might opt for a two-race weekend next time, although he didn't think it would help much.
"Last year I was much stronger while things are much less this year. The others were motivated to beat us too. Lars [Van der Haar] wasn't taking a pull when I asked him. When I saw the images of yesterday I didn't regret my choice. Besides, I already made the decision to skip Niel before the season started," Pauwels said.
Van der Haar was absent too in Niel but he didn't feel like he was to blame. "It was clear that it was everybody against them. I'm still young and they forgive me for doing so, for now," Van der Haar smiled. "During the race I made Kevin do the work. I'm playing along in this game."
World champion Albert didn't want to criticize the Sunweb riders. "They didn't win anything with it. It's not because you skip one race that you win another one. I can understand their decision. It's a pity for the organizers in Niel though. If you've got the form then you can do it," Albert said.
As always, Nys clearly had an outspoken view on things. He appreciated the words from Mettepenningen on the podium but didn't like the team's tactics. "Jurgen [Mettepenningen] congratulated me on the podium. It's still a fair battle they're fighting. But it's also about the future of 'cross. If you claim to be among the top three then you have to race there," Nys said.
"I'm extra motivated if riders try to use special methods to gain advantage on me. I arrived here, claiming I would pretend that I didn't feel yesterday's efforts [knocks fist on table]. During the first half of the race I rode against these guys," Nys said. He won the race and he was more than pleased with the victory. "This one counts double, both for them and for me. I already said it before the race: if they don't win they failed. They failed," Nys said.