With an almost race-long solo effort through the sunny Zonhoven sand quarry, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) bounced back from a disappointing World Cup trip in the Czech Republic to take victory on Sunday. The emotional Belgian national champion easily held off a chasing Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet).
"It's been a long time since I've been able to win like this," Albert said. The 25-year-old now leads the Superprestige Series with the maximum number of points after two rounds.
"This is a highly enjoyable win for me after a difficult week," a composed Albert said after recovering himself following an emotional finish. "After last Sunday [World Cup #2, Tabor], I had doubts as I didn't know why I wasn't riding well. With this performance, I'm able to draw a line under it and start from scratch."
Eventual winner Albert powered away from his rivals during the second lap and wasn't seen again by most until he was in the tent at the post-finish area.
Early on, world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step Cycling Team) attempted to chase, but he quickly faded. Among the riders racing today, Greek cyclo-cross debutant Konstantinos Xirogiannes showed how hard it was to compete at a decent level.
After the first dive into the sand quarry, Stybar was still leading, but a little later he faded. "It was a mistake to try and lead the race there. There were no lines, and I got stuck," Stybar said. When the Czech cyclo-cross fell back, it was time for Albert to move forward and leave his mark on the race.
The actual moment in which Albert distanced his rivals did not appear decisive because he did not ride away with a blistering acceleration. In his own words, Albert described his tactics quite plainly. "Stybar had the best start, but in an easy way, I ended up in the lead when they got stuck in the sand. Once there, I led like I usually do and behind me, they made mistakes," Albert said.
The pace set by Albert was simply too high and was due in part to rarely making mistakes. Veteran Sven Nys doubted whether it was a good idea to follow Albert early on. "He's not afraid to go full gas during the first two laps. I waited because I figured it would be a long race, but it was a mistake to be so cautious. Once I rode my own tempo, you can see the gap remained at about 20 seconds," Nys said.
The battle for third place at more than a minute behind Albert was easily won by in-form Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) ahead off Stybar and Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea). Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) was sixth at almost two minutes ahead of young Tom Meeussen (Teenet-Fidea) and unlucky Bart Aernouts (Rabobank - Giant-Offroad Team), who was seriously hurt halfway through the race when he collided with Meeussen's bike in a crash on the steep descent in the sand quarry.
"I feel a bit stiff now. Crashes happen and this time I was unlucky that his bike came my way. One of his brake levers was in my shirt. Afterwards it was an open battle from place three to seven," Aernouts said.
Radomir Simunek (BCKP-Powerplus) wasn't a pleased man at the finish, although he finished ninth just ahead of Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea). "I rode well through the sand but my running simply wasn't good enough," Simunek said.
Further back, Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) rode a clean race in which he finished 18th at over five minutes from winner Albert.
Only 23 riders finished withing the same lap as the winner. Riders like Jonathan Page (Planetbike) and Steve Chainel (FDJ) were forced by officials to pull out of the race when race leader Albert had them in sight.
The next Superprestige round will be held in Hamme-Zogge on November 13. In the meantime, most riders switch focus to that other big competition, the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy, which will kick off on Tuesday with the Koppenbergcross near Oudenaarde, Belgium.
Racers competed in front of huge crowds. Organizers counted them at 21,000 people.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Niels Albert (Bel)||0:58:30|
|2||Sven Nys (Bel)||0:00:28|
|3||Kevin Pauwels (Bel)||0:01:02|
|4||Zdenek Stybar (Cze)||0:01:27|
|5||Bart Wellens (Bel)||0:01:38|
|6||Klaas Vantornout (Bel)||0:01:58|
|7||Tom Meeusen (Bel)||0:02:08|
|8||Bart Aernouts (Bel)||0:02:20|
|9||Radomir Simunek (Cze)||0:03:27|
|10||Rob Peeters (Bel)||0:03:29|
|11||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel)||0:03:44|
|12||Gerben De Knegt (Ned)||0:04:01|
|13||Vincent Baestaens (Bel)||0:04:14|
|14||Joeri Adams (Bel)||0:04:24|
|15||Kenneth Van Compernolle (Bel)||0:04:42|
|16||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned)||0:04:58|
|17||Marcel Meisen (Ger)||0:05:05|
|18||Ian Field (GBr)|
|19||Niels Wubben (Ned)|
|20||Thijs Al (Ned)|
|21||Jan Denuwelaere (Bel)||0:05:21|
|22||Patrick Van Leeuwen (Ned)||0:05:51|
|23||Eddy Van Ijzendoorn (Ned)||0:06:18|
|-1lap||Mariusz Gil (Pol)|
|-1lap||Twan Van Den Brand (Ned)|
|-1lap||Tom Van Den Bosch (Bel)|
|-1lap||Jimmy Tielens (Bel)|
|-1lap||Steve Chainel (Fra)|
|-1lap||Jonathan Page (USA)|
|-2laps||Jim Aernouts (Bel)|
|-2laps||Stijn Huys (Bel)|
|-3laps||Dries Pauwels (Bel)|
|-3laps||Gianni Denolf (Bel)|
|-4laps||Grzegorz Grabarek (Pol)|
|-5laps||David Quist (USA)|