By Brecht Decaluwé
One week before the first North American UCI-race of the season the Belgian season officially traditionally kicked off with the A2 race in Erpe-Mere. All the best European riders were present except for world champion Lars Boom and last year's UCI number one Sven Nys who's taking a longer break after taking part in the Olympic cross country MTB race.
Last season showed that the top of cyclo-cross had widened as a large crop of young riders like Lars Boom, Niels Albert and Zdenek Stybar started winning big races. If this race was any indication, the top of the rankings could be undergoing a permanent transformation as former world champions Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken and Richard Groenendaal learned today.
While these riders had an off day, it turned out that last year's winner Niels Albert was already on form in sunny and dry Erpe-Mere, which is the home town from the last Belgian Tour de France winner Lucien Van Impe.
The 22 year-old Albert jumped away during the second lap and the rest of the field didn't see him again before the race had ended. Klaas Vantornout, who won in Dudzele last week, started a solo pursuit on Albert but he had to settle for second place. Sven Vanthourenhout, who is Vantornout's team-mate at Sunweb-Projob, won the battle for third place ahead of cousin Dieter Vanthourenhout, Rob Peeters and Bart Aernouts. Richard Groenendaal was the first non-Belgian at the seventh place, finishing just ahead of the Fidea leaders Wellens and Vervecken who disappointed today.
"This was a super Albert," the Sunweb riders who finished second and third admitted, "Niels' tempo was just set far too high for us." The winner explained that he had started very fast until he knew he had a good gap. "Then I consolidated my advantage and continued while keeping something in reserve," an amused Albert said to sport.be. Behind Albert there was an effort from Klaas Vantornout to join the front of the race but his efforts were in vain. "I didn't come any closer on Niels, on the contrary. Quickly I decided to focus on second place today," Vantornout said.
Continue to the full report, results and photos from Steenbergcross.