Sven Nys erased the bitter taste of last year's world championship letdown in Koksijde with a masterful, calculated effort to win the 2013 elite men's cyclo-cross world championship in Louisville, Kentucky. The race's endgame featured a head-to-head duel between Nys and compatriot Klaas Vantornout, but a pair of miscues on the final lap by Vantornout on the limestone step run-up, mid-way through the circuit, provided Nys with the opportunity to turn on the afterburners and ride away to the second elite men's 'cross title of his storied career.
The 36-year-old Belgian had just enough of a gap to savour the Louisville crowd's raucous adulation on the finishing stretch, while two seconds later Vantornout banged his fist on the handlebars in frustration as he'd never before been so tantalisingly close to earning a rainbow jersey of his own.
Lars van der Haar gave the Netherlands yet another reason to celebrate today as the 21-year-old Dutchman delivered a bronze medal in his debut world championships at the elite level, just 25 seconds off the pace of Nys.
For Nys, the victory was a manifestation of his vast experience at cyclo-cross's highest level. "I race a lot with Klaas, and I know him," said Nys. "And you need to use your experience. You need to be in the front in the last lap and try to have a gap before the obstacles, because there I was the strongest.
"When I have a gap before the obstacles, it was positive to win the race. I took a little more power before the obstacles, I had a small gap and then full power until the end. I also made a few mistakes in the last three corners, but of course when you are in the front it's possible to make mistakes.
"If he came back on the wheel then I knew that normally I am the strongest in the sprint. So then I was relaxed. But it is victory of experience, not only power."
Nys, typically the picture of calm, confessed that inside on the start line he was facing a case of the pre-race jitters. "Definitely this day before the race I felt I was getting nervous again," said Nys. "I felt 'goddamn, why am I doing this?' It's so stressful, it costs a lot of energy, but at the end you win and you have this jersey, you say, ‘this is why I'm doing it'.
"It was a hard season. I was sick before national championships and was second after Klaas. Then I felt, OK, when my shape is going up a bit again, it's maybe possible to win the world championships. When the weather circumstances are good and when everything is arranged like we want, it was very positive. The national federation, the teams - it was a hard job to do everything perfect, and I felt this today.
While the general consensus in the build-up to this year's Worlds in Louisville was that the parcours at Eva Bandman Park would be a fast, relatively unselective circuit, Mother Nature pitched in with a dose of wintry weather to set the stage for a truly deserving winner.
"I've got a lot of podium places in the world championships, but for me it doesn't work at the end of the season. One of the reasons is most of the races have been very fast over the past 10 years, and it is difficult for me to win those races. Over here there were a lot of technical skills required, and the atmosphere helped a lot. I felt it the whole week."
Vantornout earned the second world championship silver medal of his career, but it was a bittersweet day filled with mixed emotions for the 30-year-old Belgian. "I was very close today, it's a double feeling," said Vantornout. "I'm lucky that I have my Belgian champion's jersey and the season was already very, very good from the beginning to the end.
"But today it was also a good race. I felt strong, even as strong as Sven Nys, but just on the moment he was riding on the front and I made two little mistakes and my race was over." After bobbling at the base of the limestone step run-up on the final lap, which enabled Nys to pass him, Vantornout sealed his fate when his right pedal clipped a course barrier at the top of the run-up, momentarily stopping him in his tracks and giving Nys just enough daylight to ride away to victory.
Van der Haar's bronze medal ride provided yet more confirmation that the young Dutchman made the correct decision in foregoing his final year in the U23 ranks, although his day didn't start quite as expected.
"I had big problems in the first two laps getting the pace, it was just too hard for me and I didn't have the right feeling," said van der Haar. "I thought 'I have to believe in myself for the whole race' and I found a new pace and could come back to [Niels] Albert. I just felt really good - I had the power and the technical parts were going really well. I didn't really make that many mistakes, that's why I could come back.
"At the end when I went for third I saw that Albert was mentally getting a bit down. I thought 'I should go now and maybe get a gap'. I went for it just before the technical section, got a gap and had to hold it for two laps almost, but I could never get back for the win. I was really happy to get third in my first pro year."
Patience is key
Martin Bina (Czech Republic), winner of the final World Cup round and always keyed up for truly wintry conditions, set the early fast pace and led after the opening lap, but then Francis Mourey (France) took over at the front and pushed out a lead approaching 20 seconds.
But Belgians loomed, and the Frenchman soon found himself first in the company of Pauwels then quickly followed by Nys and Vantornout at the head of affairs. In pursuit of the leading quartet was a solo Niels Albert in fifth, himself pursued by a solitary Lars van der Haar in sixth. After five of nine laps had been completed Albert trailed by 11 seconds while van der Haar was just five seconds in arrears of the 2012 world champion.
While Mourey was having a stellar day in the sloppy conditions, Nys knew it was just a matter of time before the Frenchman would come unhinged, which took place on the following lap. "I was waiting until the second part of the race where I am normally the strongest," said Nys. "You saw that all season. For me it was trying to stay calm, don't make any mistakes and wait until Mourey was making some mistakes. We know Mourey, he's a strong rider, but he makes a lot of mistakes and you need to know it."
Near the end of lap six, just as Albert joined the front group, a technical section in the woods would prove pivotal to the race's outcome. Pauwels dropped his chain and lost any hope of a podium finish while Mourey, too, would come unglued and lost contact with the pointy end of the race. Nys and Vantornout crossed the finish line together in the lead, while Albert moved up to third at 11 seconds followed four seconds later by a motivated van der Haar. Adding insult to injury for Pauwels, the Belgian had to stop again to fix his dodgy drivetrain on the finishing straight about 75m from the finish.
As Nys and Vantornout continued to wage their two-man war at the front, van der Haar made contact with Albert in the battle for bronze and on the penultimate lap the young Dutchman smelled blood and dispatched of the Belgian. Entering the final lap, van der Haar trailed the Nys/Vantornout duo by 17 seconds while a four-man chase group had formed behind the Dutchman, containing Albert, Bart Wellens (Belgium), Philipp Walsleben (Germany) and Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland).
It was cat and mouse between Nys and Vantornout on the final lap until Vantornout was beset by a quick succession of errors on the limestone step sector. Nys pounced and a handful of minutes later the rainbow jersey was again his. Van der Haar remained poised beyond his years to round out the podium, while Bart Wellens overcame a dismal start to notch a fourth place result, 41 seconds down on Nys.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sven Nys (Belgium)||1:05:35|
|2||Klaas Vantornout (Belgium)||0:00:02|
|3||Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands)||0:00:25|
|4||Bart Wellens (Belgium)||0:00:41|
|5||Philipp Walsleben (Germany)||0:00:44|
|6||Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland)|
|7||Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic)||0:01:15|
|8||Niels Albert (Belgium)||0:01:19|
|9||Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands)||0:01:31|
|10||Martin Bina (Czech Republic)||0:01:41|
|11||Francis Mourey (France)||0:01:54|
|12||Kevin Pauwels (Belgium)||0:02:04|
|13||Simon Zahner (Switzerland)||0:02:36|
|14||Enrico Franzoi (Italy)||0:02:38|
|15||Bart Aernouts (Belgium)||0:02:48|
|16||Marcel Meisen (Germany)||0:02:54|
|17||Lukas Flückiger (Switzerland)||0:03:04|
|18||Rob Peeters (Belgium)||0:03:16|
|19||Timothy Johnson (United States Of America)||0:03:20|
|20||Arnaud Grand (Switzerland)||0:03:32|
|21||Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland)||0:03:38|
|22||Jonathan Page (United States Of America)||0:03:42|
|23||Aitor Hernandez Gutierrez (Spain)||0:03:58|
|24||Geoff Kabush (Canada)||0:04:06|
|25||Jeremy Powers (United States Of America)||0:04:16|
|26||Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy)||0:04:27|
|27||James Driscoll (United States Of America)||0:04:37|
|28||Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez (Spain)||0:05:15|
|29||Ian Field (Great Britain)||0:05:38|
|30||Guillaume Perrot (France)||0:05:44|
|31||Yu Takenouchi (Japan)||0:05:47|
|32||Romain Lejeune (France)||0:06:00|
|-2laps||Christian Helmig (Luxembourg)|
|-2laps||Craig Richey (Canada)|
|-2laps||Daniel Summerhill (United States Of America)|
|-2laps||Vaclav Metlicka (Slovakia)|
|-4laps||Mike Garrigan (Canada)|
|-4laps||Alexander Revell (New Zealand)|
|-5laps||Hikaru Kosaka (Japan)|
|-5laps||Lewis Rattray (Australia)|
|-5laps||Zoltan Tisza (Hungary)|
|-5laps||Maksym Shepitko (Ukraine)|
|-6laps||David Quist (Norway)|
|DNF||Ryan Trebon (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Twan Van Den Brand (Netherlands)|