Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) has taken eight wins in the Koppenbergcross, seven of them consecutively, but his historic run in the race ended today as Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) ran away with the victory in Melden. Nys came second, half a minute off the lead, while world champion Zdenek Stybar (QuickStep) took third.
Nys blamed part of his misfortune on a flat tyre which came halfway through the race as the rain began to fall on the men's elite field. "I don't know whether I caused it or not but when I rode out of the pit I noticed the tire was slowly flatting," Nys said. "In the descent I tried as hard as possible to reduce the gap and I noticed Stybar didn't have control over his bike either. We both lost contact with Kevin. Afterwards the gap remained the same and even if I would've bridged back up to him I would've lost the race because I used too much energy. In the pit I lost the race."
The 35-year-old Belgian further explained how he planned out to beat Pauwels in an effort to add an eighth consecutive win on the Koppenberg to his impressive cyclo-cross palmarès. "I would've switched bikes a few more times to get the perfect setting. I'm a bit disappointed because I lose the race because of the circumstances that were out of my control. I would've loved to enter the last lap together with Kevin because I was ready to battle for the victory. In the descent Kevin would've had a hard time to stay upright to follow me," Nys said.
During the seventh lap of the race, as the rain started to drizzle down on the course and the cobbles of the steep Flemish hill, the decision to enter the pits would turn into a crucial moment in the battle for the cobbled trophy. While both Nys and Stybar took to the pits as the rain began to make the course more slippery, Pauwels simply opted to keep riding on his Grifo clincher tires
"I thought Nys had flatted while I didn't know where Stybar had gone. I felt good on my tires so I kept going," Pauwels said. The Grifo tires have a lower treat profile, but as the course became more slippery the Rhino tire would offer more grip to a ride.
Nys from his side was planning to figure out the best setting to blast through the last lap. "I opted to get a Rhino tire in front but I don't know why Kevin didn't pit, maybe he didn't have tires ready," Nys said. Stybar had pre-planned a swap to the Rhino, but in the end the bike swaps ended up being disastrous for both riders.
While Pauwels hammered down the famous climb, Nys found out he was on a flat rear tire while Stybar noticed his shifter wasn't working as expected. "After my first bike switch my shifter didn't work well and it was hard to keep up with the two others in the descent. When I switched bikes again I ended up riding with Grifo tires again. By that time it was mentally hard to keep going," Stybar said.
Despite all the excuses Pauwels was a well-deserved winner according to both Nys and Stybar. The Belgian has metamorphosed into a mature pro and has already captured his second big win of the season. "Not much has changed though. The main difference is that I've never been this strong. Then it's obvious you end up leading the race more often. This was a big win," Pauwels said.
When asked about his next real goal Pauwels first answered with the obvious 'every race' before adding his real desire. "I'm well positioned in the World Cup and I hope I can win it," Pauwels said.
Nys, however, didn't expect Pauwels to keep dominating the races. "Last year he was riding well during the first bit of the season too, capturing podium places which he now can convert into wins. Also take into account that this isn't your usual Fall weather," Nys said and indicated that he was keen on having some mud on the cyclo-cross courses whereas up until now most courses had been fast.
Pauwels from his side didn't plan to fade away once the Belgian weather turns around. "I hope that I'll be able to keep riding at this level," Pauwels said.