Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) rode to a commanding solo victory at the Cauberg Cyclocross on Sunday.
The course was rich in difficulty, with steep ups and downs, loose, off-camber corners and plenty of running sections, including one ridiculously long, steep hillside hike.
Clearly a man with a mission, Wellens grabbed the lead on the first lap, chased by Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus) and Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant), with Belgian champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) mounting a solo pursuit in fourth.
Going into the third lap Walsleben took a small gap over Aernouts, who was caught by Albert; the two shortly regained the German champ’s wheel and Albert moved to the front of the chase. Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) was further behind with Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank) and Martin Zlamalik (Sunweb-Revor) for company.
The Albert chase was 19 seconds back going into the fourth lap with the Nys trio a further 20 seconds in arrears.
A lap later Wellens’ advantage remained unchanged, but Aernouts had fallen out of the first chase. The second trio remained intact with Nys doing the lion’s share of the work.
A half hour in Wellens clung to his lead over Albert and Walsleben, who seemed the stronger of the two. Aernouts was on his own, nearly a minute down.
A lap later it was still the Telenet rider out front all alone and looking smooth, pursued by Walsleben, who was leaving Albert in his dust. Nys, meanwhile, had worked his way up to Aernouts.
With two laps remaining Wellens was still powering along alone. Walsleben was more than a half minute behind with Albert at nearly twice that.
Bell lap. Wellens was showing the signs of his effort as he crossed the finish line for the penultimate time. Walsleben was 43 seconds down but still chasing doggedly, with Albert following a dozen or so seconds back. Nys and Aernouts were 1:45 back and out of the hunt.
Wellens hit the pits for a clean bike and quickly got back to business. Zipping up the skinsuit well in advance of the finish line, he took the flowers with ease, punching the air with his right fist before grinning broadly and throwing his arms skyward.
Walsleben held on for second at 32 seconds while Albert rounded out the podium at just under a minute down. Aernouts took fourth with Nys fifth.