Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) grabbed a tactical win in Neerpelt, Belgium, the second consecutive win for Nys on home soil. The race is the first of four races in the Fidea Cyclo-cross Classics, which is a series without a classification.
On a damp, technical, 2,585m long course through a hilly forest Nys won a tactical battle ahead of Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team) and Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea). The four Belgians had distanced the rest of the field early on.
Nys had started quickly and was alone in the lead after the opening lap. Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team) joined the Belgian champion on the second lap and the duo soon became a sextet as Klaas Vantornout, Kevin Pauwels, Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) and Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus) also bridged to the lead group.
Wellens had a bout of bad luck as he crashed and lost contact with the Nys group, while Vanthourenhout couldn't handle the pace and was dropped.
The four riders remained together for most of the hour-long race and during the last lap Vantornout and Nys exchanged accelerations to be in front on the key parts of the course. During the race Nys noticed that his three breakaway companions weren't able to tackle certain obstacles like he did, especially the sand pit only 300 metres from the finish, and the Belgian champion used that knowledge to his advantage.
Nys won the ultimate duel preceding the sand pit on the final lap and unleashed a powerful surge through the sand which his breakaway companions could not answer. Nys exited the sand pit with a gap which he would not concede through to the finish. Vantornout wasn't able to stay on Nys's wheel and had to settle for second place. Aernouts finished in third place a few seconds later for the remaining podium spot while Pauwels crossed the line in fourth.
"This is a very difficult 'cross race," Nys told Sporza TV. "I took the initiative throughout the race intentionally. At this moment of the season it makes you better. The sand pit near the finish line benefited me, with my explosive and technical capabilities. It was ideal."
The Belgian cyclo-cross champion has made the switch from mountain biking, with the mountain bike world championships in Canada several weeks ago his final event of the season. Last year it turned out to be a difficult switch but this year the transition seems much smoother. "In the finale I was able to accelerate while I wasn't able to do that last week," said Nys. "Hopefully I can still improve. I'm feeling better than last year. I tried to force things too much back then and it made me tired. Now we're taking it the easy way to prevent that. The difference is already big."
Despite leading the race during most of the final lap Vantornout blew his chance for victory when he allowed Nys to move past him on a short stretch of pavement ahead of the sand pit. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old Belgian was confident that his first victory of the season would follow quickly.
"This is a very technical course that doesn't suit my capabilities," Vantornout said. "Then again, if the form is good I can take on every type of course. I suffered during the first half of the race. I knew that the most comfortable position was in front but that succeeded only later on. I tried to accelerate a couple of times but that didn't succeed. All four of us went into the red zone but that's cross. The crowd saw exciting duels."
Bart Aernouts seemed the second strongest man in the race. He was often spotted taking over the lead from Nys and even launching some attacks on the paved road. The 28-year-old was struggling during the two last laps but a third place was more than deserved for Aernouts.
"It's been a good start of the season so far," said Aernouts. "After one lap the battle for the places of honour was already over. The four of us were equal to each other. Nobody was able to make the difference. I tried a couple of times in the hope that the others would hesitate."
Next week the serious races get going on European soil with the first Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy round in Namur, Belgium. World champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) wasn't present in Neerpelt, as he did a home race in the Czech Republic. Defending champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) is injured and out for at least a month.
|1||Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|2||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Revor|
|3||Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank - Giant Offroad Team|
|4||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team|
|5||Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team|
|6||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team|
|7||Enrico Franzoi (Ita) BKCP-Powerplus|
|8||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus|
|9||Jim Aernouts (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus|
|10||Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team|
|11||Thijs van Amerongen (Ned) AA Drink Cycling Team|
|12||Arnaud Jouffroy (Fra) BKCP-Powerplus|
|13||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus|
|14||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team|
|15||Patrick van Leeuwen (Ned)|
|16||Marco Bianco (Ita)|
|17||Marcel Wildhaber (Swi)|
|18||Martin Zlámalík (Cze) Sunweb - Revor|
|19||Mariusz Gil (Pol) Baboco - Revor Cycling Team|
|20||Kenneth van Compernolle (Bel) Sunweb Revor|