World champion Albert had to battle back from a poor start to claim his eighth victory of the season in round two of the Superprestige series in Hoogstraten.
The world champion chased for three laps from the back of the pack before he powered to the front together with Czech champion Zdenek Stybar.
Rather than the big names at the front, Czech Martin Zlamalik was the one to take control from the gun, and the winner of this week's C2 race in Hlinsko led for the first two laps while the favourites battled to overcome early mistakes.
Belgian champion Sven Nys was caught up in a minor crash, and then miscommunicated with his pit crew and lost time with a bike change. He was too far back when Albert and Stybar made their big push to the front, and spent the rest of the race chasing the final podium spot.
Changing weather conditions caused trouble after the start of the race, making riders quickly opt for more grip on the wet course. With a steady rain soaking the already muddy course, Albert was able to power away from the rest of the field, leaving a spray of muck in his wake.
Stybar was not as fast in the slippery conditions, and dropped back at about ten seconds from Albert, but continued to put the pressure on the world champion. The two stayed within five to ten seconds from each other for the entire second half of the race. Albert never had a chance to take a breather and was only sure about the victory in the finishing straight.
"We were matched to each other today and maybe I could distance him because I changed tyres a little bit earlier," Albert said. Thanks to his win Albert takes the lead in the Superprestige Series.
Stybar finished second ahead of Nys and the runner-up was happy with his race. "I couldn't ride any harder, gave all I had and tried all I could. With Albert riding so strong I have to wait for the right moment if I want to win a race," Stybar said.
Third place Nys wasn't that pleased with his race. "I made too many mistakes in order to be able to win today. I ended up riding in between the front and the rest. It was a boring race for me and I'd rather race for the win, which was posibble if I wouldn't have made all those mistakes. It's a race that I soon want to forget, luckily I didn't lose my classification," Nys said. The Belgian is now second in the Superprestige Series.
Gavere will be the scene for the third event of the Superprestige Series on November 15.
Rains cause trouble at the start
The small peloton at the start got underway, almost together with the rain. In-form Zlamalik pulled off the hole shot while world champion Niels Albert and Erwin Vervecken had a terrible start.
Many riders threw away their glasses as the visibility got worse. Zlamalik easily held on to his front position, followed by Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout, Gerben De Knegt, Sven Nys and Bart Aernouts. In front the big guns kept quiet and awaited the return of Albert, but the latter went down and so did Vantornout.
After two laps Albert was closing in on the large leader's group where Nys and Pauwels went down and lost their good position.
Albert and Stybar in the attack
While Albert launched an attack that was marked by Stybar it was clear some riders were struggling to get the tyres they wanted. Among them was Belgian champion Nys who had a lot of work on his plate to secure his leading position in the Superprestige Series, suddenly riding in twentieth position at 20" from the leaders.
With the rain and wind increasing in volumes the gaps started to run up. After four laps Albert and Stybar were leading the race with 21" ahead of Simunek, then Vervecken, Pauwels, De Knegt & Jan Verstraeten followed at 25" and Nys trailed on his own at more than half a minute from Albert.
Czech champion Stybar struggled to keep up with Albert on the slippery course and before the halfway mark - with seven laps to go - Albert was on his own.
A group with Verstraeten, Simunek, Pauwels, Vervecken and De Knegt trailed by 37". Another group including Nys, Vantornout, Rob Peeters and Dieter Vanthourenhout followed at 46". Meanwhile Sven Vanthourenhout could forget about his good overall classification as he was riding back in twentieth position.
Track pursuit in front, Nys moves up
Albert probably figured he had the win within his grasp but Stybar was not going to give up that easily. Every lap the Czech was able to nibble something from the gap, coming back to 6" with four laps to go.
Behind the two protagonists Nys was gaining positions. First the Belgian champion bridged up to the group that rode for third place at 40", including Simunek, De Knegt, Vantornout and Pauwels, and then he dropped those riders one by one.
With three laps to go Stybar still had Albert in sight, trailing by only 5" at the finish. Nys wasn't bothering with the battle in front and focused on securing his third place at 47" from Albert.
Going into the penultimate lap Stybar was still within ten seconds of Albert but the world champion didn't make any mistakes. He clinched his eighth win of the season and the lead in the Superprestige Series.
|1||Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP - Powerplus||1:03:36|
|2||Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Fidea Cycling Team||0:00:16|
|3||Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago||0:01:12|
|4||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Fidea Cycling Team||0:01:28|
|5||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Projob||0:01:48|
|6||Gerben de Knegt (Ned) Rabobank||0:01:58|
|7||Radomír Šimunek Jr. (Cze) BKCP - Power Plus||0:02:22|
|8||Erwin Vervecken (Bel) Revor-BabocoContinental Team||0:02:32|
|9||Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank||0:02:33|
|10||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) BKCP - Powerplus|
|11||Rob Peeters (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago||0:02:46|
|12||Jan Verstraeten (Bel) KDL Trans NV||0:03:06|
|13||Wilant van Gils (Ned) Pro Cycling Team ZZPR.nl-Destil-Merida||0:03:13|
|14||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned) Van Vliet EBH Elshof|
|15||Martin Zlámalík (Cze) Prodoli Racing Team||0:03:23|
|16||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) Team BKCP-Power Plus||0:04:06|
|17||Ben Berden (Bel) Revor-Jartazi Continental Team||0:04:34|
|18||Ian Field (GBr) Hargroves Cycles/Trant/Next/GSI||0:04:51|
|19||Tom Van Den Bosch (Bel) Rendement Hypo Cyclingteam VZW|
|20||Quentin Bertholet (Bel) Fidea Cycling Team||0:05:01|
|21||Jody Crawforth (GBr) Arctic - Premier RT||0:05:08|
|22||Marco Bianco (Ita) L Arcobaleno Carraro Team||0:05:17|
|23||Tim Van Nuffel (Bel) Rendement Hypo Cyclingteam VZW||0:05:49|
|24||Gusty Bausch (Lux) LC Kayl||-3 laps|
|25||Marek Cichosz (Pol) Legia 192||-4 laps|
|26||Zoltan Tisza (Hun)||-5 laps|
|1||Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP - Powerplus||29||pts|
|2||Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago||28|
|3||Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Fidea Cycling Team||27|
|4||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Projob||22|
|5||Radomír Šimunek Ml (Cze) BKCP - Power Plus||19|
|6||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Fidea Cycling Team||18|
|7||Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank||16|
|8||Gerben de Knegt (Ned) Rabobank||15|
|9||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) BKCP - Powerplus||14|
|10||Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel) Sunweb-Projob||12|
|11||Erwin Vervecken (Bel) Revor-Jartazi Continental Team|
|12||Rob Peeters (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago||8|
|13||Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Liquigas||7|
|14||Jan Verstraeten (Bel) KDL Trans NV||6|
|15||Wilant van Gils (Ned) Pro Cycling Team ZZPR.nl-Destil-Merida||3|
|16||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned) Van Vliet EBH Elshof||2|
|17||Eddy van IJzendoorn (Ned) AA Drink - BeOne|