Czech champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) made up a little for a lackluster season on Saturday afternoon with a well-deserved win at the final Superprestige round of the season, held under sunny skies and frigid temperatures alongside the North Sea in Middelkerke, Belgium.
Next season Stybar will switch his focus from cyclo-cross to the road but on the twisting course across the dunes of Middelkerke the 26-year-old Czech showed he's not gone just yet. "Stybi" teamed up with Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) and distanced rivals like Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) halfway through the race. The duo eventually sprinted for the win with Stybar taking top honours.
"Finally, I didn't think a big win would be in it for me this year. The fact that I made the race with overall winner Nys adds even more glamour to it. I struggled in the corners today. I wondered whether or not to lead-out (which he did) the headwind sprint but I felt that I had some power left in my legs to hold off Nys," Stybar said.
While losing out in the sprint, the second place finish by Nys was more than enough to claim his 11th overall win in the Superprestige series. Despite winning only one round – in Gieten – Nys never finished out of the top-five. With 105 points Nys holds off Pauwels at 99 and Stybar at 92 points.
"I was really nervous coming into this one. We're reaching the end of the season and due to the cold weather it was hard to keep training well. When arriving here this morning I had a bad feeling about this. The fast course could make things turn wrong and that's something I already went through in the final round one time," Nys said. "When a strong Stybar moved up I realized that he was the one to follow. Keeping up was the only thing I thought about as he was clearly stronger today," Nys added.
The early leaders on the day included local rider and last year's winner Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) and Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus). On the second lap Nys made his way to the front and upped the tempo. Soon afterwards Pauwels moved up towards the leaders Nys, Vantornout and Simunek. "Despite that I realized that it wasn't my day while Nys was going strong," Pauwels said.
On the fourth of nine laps Nys and Simunek powered away in the sand sector while the home crowd saw their hero Vantornout struggle. Actually, both Sunweb-Revor riders struggled and they were caught back by the first chasers. A little later the remaining leaders were caught back, too, and nine riders led the race.
Halfway into the race Stybar put the hammer down. The Czech champion powered smoothly through the sand and only Nys was able to follow. The acceleration from the duo meant the end of the Superprestige hopes of Pauwels. The World Cup winner quickly lost ground and trailed the duo in front by 15 seconds.
On every lap the two leaders extended their advantage over the chasers at the decisive barrier section which was followed by a 50-metre long sector of sand. Both Stybar and Nys hopped the barriers which allowed them to hit the sand at a higher speed than the chasers, most of whom dismounted to clear the barriers.
A huge contrast from the world championship race from two weeks ago was the performance from the winner Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus). The newly crowned world champion seemed lethal in the long sand sections of Koksijde whereas he struggled at each passage of the short sand strip in Middelkerke.
With a few more laps to go the biggest battle in the race was over. Nys had his eleventh Superprestige win in the pocket and the only fight that was left was the one for the race victory and the third podium spot. A minor crash from Nys in the penultimate lap didn't do any damage and the duo hit the final lap together.
Stybar led most of the lap and tried to power away from Nys, who didn't give in. The duo hit the finishing straight together at a slow pace with Stybar leading-out the sprint into the headwind and gradually upping the pace. Nys tried to come around the Czech champion in the final metres but Stybar held off the Belgian champion and grabbed his eighth win of the season.
The sprint for third place was won by Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) ahead of Pauwels, Simunek and Vantornout. Meeusen and Vantornout claimed fourth and fifth in the overall rankings in which they passed Bart Aernouts (Rabo-Giant Off-Road); he only managed an 11th place on the day and tumbled from fourth to sixth.
Despite winning three rounds Niels Albert only finished seventh overall as he missed two rounds due to a wrist injury halfway through the season. Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) concluded a poor run in the Superprestige series with zero points. As points are only on offer for the top-15 he once again fell just short with a 16th place finish in Middelkerke.
|1||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||0:59:05|
|2||Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|3||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||0:00:15|
|4||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Revor|
|5||Radomir Simunek (Cze) BKCP-Powerplus|
|6||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Revor|
|7||Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||0:00:19|
|8||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus||0:00:29|
|9||Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus||0:00:49|
|10||Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Style & Concept||0:00:50|
|11||Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team|
|12||Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||0:00:55|
|13||Kenneth Van Compernolle (Bel) Style & Concept Cycling Team||0:01:22|
|14||Gerben De Knegt (Ned) Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team||0:01:41|
|15||Niels Wubben (Ned) Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team|
|16||Jonathan Page (USA) Planet Bike-Blue Bicycles||0:02:03|
|17||Martin Zlamalik (Cze) Landbouwkrediet - KDL||0:02:14|
|18||Thijs Al (Ned) Team AA Drink-Leontien.nl||0:02:22|
|19||Joeri Adams (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||0:02:33|
|20||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus||0:02:42|
|21||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Sunweb-Revor||0:02:49|
|22||Ian Field (GBr) Hargroves Cycles||0:03:00|
|23||Bart Hofman (Bel)|
|24||Patrick Gaudy (Bel) Barracuda||0:03:20|
|25||Kevin Cant (Bel) Van Goethem||0:03:38|
|26||Francis Mourey (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat||0:04:11|
|27||Matthieu Boulo (Fra) Roubaix Lille Metropole|
|28||Jelle Wallays (Bel)||-1lap|
|29||Dries Pauwels (Bel) Van Goethem - Prorace Cycling Team||-3laps|
|30||Marcel Meisen (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus|
|31||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|32||Eddy Van IJzendoorn (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team|
|1||Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||105||pts|
|2||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Revor||99|
|3||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||92|
|4||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||78|
|5||Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Revor||74|
|6||Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team||73|
|7||Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus||64|
|8||Radomir Simunek (Cze) BKCP-Powerplus||63|
|9||Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||50|
|10||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus||41|
|11||Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||37|
|12||Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||34|
|13||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned) Team AA Drink-Leontien.nl||19|
|14||Mariusz Gil (Pol) Baboco||15|
|15||Gerben De Knegt (Ned) Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team||15|
|16||Joeri Adams (Bel) Telenet-Fidea||13|
|17||Steve Chainel (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat||11|
|18||Aurelien Duval (Fra) U.V.Aube||11|
|19||Marcel Meisen (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus||11|
|20||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||10|
|21||Niels Wubben (Ned) Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team||9|
|22||Julien Taramarcaz (Swi) BMC Mountain Bike Racing Team||8|
|23||Kenneth Van Compernolle (Bel) Style & Concept Cycling Team||7|
|24||Thijs Al (Ned) Team AA Drink-Leontien.nl||6|
|25||Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Style & Concept||6|
|26||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Sunweb-Revor||5|
|27||Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus||2|
|28||Mitchell Huenders (Ned) Cyclingteam Jo Piels||1|
|29||Twan Van Den Brand (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team||1|