Battling a typical mix of weather conditions, in-form Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) won the third edition of the GP Mario De Clercq in Ronse, Belgium. Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) finished as runner-up over a minute behind Nys while young talent Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) took third.
The race in Ronse was a national event, which meant the field boasted only Belgians and of those only nine finished on the same lap as Nys and several top names such as Bart Wellens, Sven Vanthourenhout and Klaas Vantornout abandoned halfway when rain and hail tortured the riders' backs.
These retirements allowed some unknown riders to grab a big result in a race with TV coverage, such as fourth-placed Jan Denuwelaere, who trailed Nys by almost four minutes after nine laps on a Swiss-like course with plenty of climbing and a lot of mud. On a course that resembled last week's Koppenbergcross, Nys rode at his own rhythm en route to a fourth victory this season.
"It's a cross that fits me really well. The course allows you to show your strength. You've got to search for your own rhythm because you can't go over the limit on a course like this," said Nys. As the rain and hail started to come down Nys crashed and suddenly trailed Niels Albert by almost 20 seconds.
"By crashing into the mud my hands got a bit cold and Niels is a rider who doesn't look back," Nys explained. Whilst it wasn't looking good for him, Nys fought back. "I needed some time to come back on Niels but he didn't have enough time on me on this course.
"On every section I managed to take fractions of a second back on him and that was crucial. Once I bridged up with Niels I needed a bit of time to recover but once I took the lead I felt I was the strongest of the two," he added.
The start of the race was a moment of glory for the organiser's son, Angelo De Clercq, who led the pack into the meadows on the Kluisberg climb, near the Koppenberg. It wasn't so good for Tom Meeusen, who rode from fourth to be last place after the first corner.
Once De Clercq ran out of gas Niels Albert took over, although he lost the lead when trying to ride up a very steep climb. Klaas Vantornout blasted past Albert while the others were coming to a standstill. After one lap Vantornout led by four seconds over Nys, Albert and Wellens, who all bridged to Vantornout half a lap later.
During the third lap rain and hail turned the course into a mud bath as the temperature dropped. In front the pace dropped and the leaders were joined by a remarkably quick Meeusen although as the weather worsened during the fourth lap Meeusen was dropped again and the four remaining leaders headed into a steep drop.
Wellens led the way and made it safely to the bottom but behind him Nys went down, taking Vantornout along with him while Albert was able to get past his two rivals; it was a spectacular display as Nys and Vantornout ran back up the climb to pick up their bikes. Meanwhile Albert went full gas and together with Wellens he garnered a 10-second gap on Nys, Vantornout and Meeusen.
Wellens didn't fancy a trip in the fast lane with Albert, quickly dropping back as Albert opened a gap of 16 seconds on Nys and Vantornout, with Wellens a further 10 seconds in arrears whilst Meeusen and Denuwelaere gave chase at almost 40 seconds. Shortly after Wellens abandoned.
With only the strong men still standing Nys turned the screws. The Belgian champion dropped Vantornout and slowly took time back on Albert, who continued to go flat out and with three laps to go Albert and Nys crossed the line together.
Behind them Vantornout defended his third place at almost 50 seconds, just ahead of Meeusen; Denuwelaere chased at half a minute. The duo in front shared the work and it was clear they would battle for the win. Vantornout was the next to pull the pin and thus Meeusen crossed the line in third, a minute behind the leaders. Shortly after, Nys applied the pressure to his young countryman while ploughing through the mud and while Albert wasn't simply settling for second, closing the 20-metre gap on Nys would prove impossible.
It was then a case of holding position for Nys, who cruised to victory following Albert's late-race crash, which lost him more time, with Meeusen performing admirably for his third-place finish.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||1:00:06|
|2||Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus||0:01:09|
|3||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea|
|4||Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Style & Concept|
|5||Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea|
|6||Kenneth van Compernolle (Bel) Sunweb-Revor|
|7||Tom Van den Bosch (Bel) AA Drink||0:04:57|
|8||Quentin Bertholet (Bel)||0:05:42|
|9||Jan Verstraeten (Bel)||0:07:33|
|10 -1 lap||Stijn Huys (Bel)|
|11||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel)|
|12||Ritchie Denolf (Bel)|
|13||Tim Merlier (Bel)|
|14||Toon Devenyns (Bel)|
|15 -2 laps||Dave De Cleyn (Bel)|
|16 -3 laps||Jelle Brackman (Bel)|
|17||Yu Takenouchi (Jpn)|
|18 -4 laps||Valentijn Van de Velde (Bel)|
|19||Sam Govaerts (Bel)|
|20||Thomas Vandaele (Bel)|