After picking up his first ever Superprestige victory of his career in Gavere on Sunday, and win number six for the year Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) clearly proved again that he is the man to beat in 2011. But in a season characterized by dry courses fast speeds his rivals hope that things may change when different weather conditions and more demanding courses present themselves.
"Right now he’s just playing around with us," world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step Cycling) said. "Every moment of the race Kevin was capable of dropping us," Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) added.
Teammate Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) said the current circumstances favor Pauwels. "It’s dry and he’s in top form. The one who beats Kevin wins. He’s a lot stronger than the rest. After him we’re with about five riders who match each other," Vantornout said.
At the finish line in Gavere an often heard question was focused on the courses and whether they influence Pauwels’ performances. Nobody knows the answer for sure but Pauwels himself expects the best.
"I don’t mind these conditions and to me it can stay this way. I think that I’ll be better than previous years in the mud although it shouldn’t be like in Zogge last year. Back then I was third and I would be pleased with that again," Pauwels referred to the extreme mudbath in Zogge one year ago.
Former teammate Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) expects Pauwels to excel even more above the rest of the cyclo-cross peloton.
"Before the start I predicted that he would win by one minute. It was less in the end but if he attacked earlier I would’ve been correct. He’s simply the best and if it starts raining he’ll win by even bigger margins. Now it’s possible to stay on the wheels but in the mud you can’t hide," Wellens said before heralding Pauwels even more.
"The difference is talent. It was a"out time that the results start to follow because we’ve been saying he’s so good for five years now.”
Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) wasn't quite as taken by Pauwels recent performances, citing the lack of difficulting in the courses favouring a certain type of rider.
"In these conditions it’s annoying. As long as Kevin wins on these courses it’s not frustrating. But if he starts winning in the mud it’ll be different because on a tough course there’s also the factor of technique. Nowadays we’re riding with road tyres and 2kg of air in them. I’ve been more often in the drops than on the brakes. I really don’t like that as you only have to steer your bike," Nys said.
"Next week there’s the World Cup round in Koksijde. Next week getting a good result won't rely on rain because it doesn’t matter in the sand dunes theres - it's hard no matter what."
The course which is also the world championships course in January is positioned in the dunes next to the North Sea. Pauwels said that he doesn’t feel he is the top favorite on that terrain.
"I don’t have fond memories to Koksijde. As a Junior I won the Belgian championships [back in 2001-2002]. Other than that it wasn’t all that great," Pauwels said. Last year Pauwels finished a distant ninth, a year earlier he was tenth and the year before that he was fifth. "I hope to do better than last year but winning will be difficult. I would be more than happy with a podium result in Koksijde."