The impressive display of form of Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) is far from coming to an end. Instead the young Belgian rider crushed his rivals at the feared Zonhoven sand pit on Sunday afternoon during the second round of the Superprestige series. Van Aert literally ran away in the sand from his rival during the third of 10 laps and collected a one-minute gap over the first chasers. As if he wanted to emphasize his dominance, he stood up on the pedals as he raised his fists in the air when crossing the finish line in Zonhoven.
“It’s a very nice victory in a race that I was very much looking forward to,” Van Aert told Telenet Play Sports. It was his first participation in the Elite men's category in Zonhoven. “Diving into the sand pit during the final lap cannot be compared with anything. It’s a massive kick.”
Van Aert also won the opening round of the Superprestige series in Gieten, Netherlands and now holds a bonus of five points over Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) who settled for fifth place in Zonhoven. Just ahead of him Van Aert’s teammate Rob Peeters won the sprint for second place from last year’s winner Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games). The latter briefly protested when Peeters closed the door on him as he was trying to sneak in between Peeters and the barriers. Sven Nys (AA Drink-Crelan) also featured in this group but he flatted away at the end, finishing fourth.
It was the seventh victory of the season in eight races for Van Aert. His only defeat came at the World Cup round in Valkenburg when he was beaten by Van der Haar. Shortly after Valkenburg the Belgian rider became ill, possibly explaining his defeat.
After two laps of racing in Zonhoven there were still no major gaps between the top guns although some riders were clearly in the hurt box. After a fast passage through the sand pit there were only three riders left in front, being Van der Haar, Van Aert and his team-mate Tim Merlier. At the last uphill running sand section of the course Van Aert took over the command and Merlier got dropped. During the following lap Van der Haar did most of the work but when reaching the same running section the race was decided. Van Aert stormed forward and Van der Haar was unable to hold on. “I tried to hang on and it worked once, twice but then I had to let him go. He was impossible to beat today,” Van der Haar said.
Most of the crowd in Zonhoven – including tennis legend Kim Clijsters – gathered at the sand pit, an old quarry that was used to build the nearby highway. Although the crowd witnessed several crashes and technical skills the race was not decided there, Van Aert stated. “The sand pit is spectacular but not decisive. It’s a place where you can lose the race but not where you win it. The crucial points is at the back of the course with the tough running section. Today I had good sensations in my legs. The plan was not to take initiative in the first half of the race but in the running sections I upped the pace. It’s something I can do without hitting the red zone. I had a gap on Lars and knew I should not wait for him. I rode at a good pace. It’s easier to ride alone over here than in groups,” Van Aert said.
At the sand pit Tim Merlier crashed spectacularly, forcing him to pick up his bike at the other end of the barriers. The crowds went ecstatic when Nys managed to ride up one of the sand climbs in the eighth lap – knocking off Pauwels’ glasses in the same move – and did so again in the final lap when reaching out for a podium result.
Nevertheless, it was Rob Peeters who ended up as best of the rest. He won the sprint from Pauwels at more than a minute from his winning team-mate.
“I’m a man of ups and downs. I excel when there’s sand or when it’s hard. The course was never as hard as today so then I’m at the front. My sand-riding skills were scary this week. Mostly it then screw it up the races but not today,” Peeters said.
When asked whether he closed the door for Pauwels he looked at the TV images and said he made no mistake. “Suddenly I felt something at my shoe. I can’t help it when he decides to take the smallest gap. I think I rode straight forward.”
Pauwels wasn’t planning to file a complaint. “Second place was possible so I was disappointed at first. The gap was small and if he moves a little to the left he closes the door. I’m pleased with third place. Wout ran away and quickly had a big gap. He was much stronger today,” Pauwels said.
A late flat held Sven Nys back in the end but he echoed Pauwels’ view on Van Aert. “I had something left to fight for second place but lost pressure so I couldn’t take risks. If I would’ve switched bikes then Lars would’ve passed me. I figured Wout would win as there was a lot of running today. If there’s something Wout is extremely good at, it’s running. We’ll see if the tide turns. If you can ride away by a minute seemingly on a playful manner then you can say you’re the best,” Nys said.
Belgian champion Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) abandoned the race after a hard crash on a downhill sand section halfway the race.
The third round of the Superprestige series is held in Ruddervoorde, Belgium on November 8.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Wout Van Aert (Bel)||1:00:51|
|2||Rob Peeters (Bel)||0:01:09|
|3||Kevin Pauwels (Bel)|
|4||Sven Nys (Bel)||0:01:17|
|5||Lars Van Der Haar (Ned)||0:01:18|
|6||Laurens Sweeck (Bel)||0:01:45|
|7||David Van Der Poel (Ned)||0:02:04|
|8||Julien Taramarcaz (Swi)|
|9||Jens Adams (Bel)||0:02:07|
|10||Tom Meeusen (Bel)||0:02:21|
|11||Diether Sweeck (Bel)||0:02:24|
|12||Joeri Adams (Bel)||0:02:26|
|13||Thijs Van Amerongen (Ned)||0:02:30|
|14||Toon Aerts (Bel)||0:02:36|
|15||Jim Aernouts (Bel)||0:03:09|
|16||Vincent Baestaens (Bel)||0:03:24|
|17||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel)||0:03:36|
|18||Michael Boros (Cze)||0:03:39|
|19||Tim Merlier (Bel)||0:03:53|
|20||Stan Godrie (Ned)||0:03:59|
|21||Jens Vandekinderen (Bel)||0:04:36|
|22||Niels Wubben (Ned)|
|23||Radomir Simunek (Cze)|
|24||Niels Koyen (Bel)|
|25||Yu Takenouchi (Jpn)|
|26||Brian Matter (USA)|
|27||Kevin Cant (Bel)|
|28||Edwin De Wit (Bel)|
|29||Fabian Obrist (Swi)|
|30||Sleidhy Étienne (Fra)|