RUDDERVOORDE, Belgium (VN) — The first round of the Superprestige series saw a battle of the champions, and it was Sven Nys who emerged triumphant over Niels Albert in the final meters of the last lap.
Belgian champion Nys attacked world champ Albert on a short stretch of pavement leading to the finishing straight and the Landbouwkrediet rider gained enough of an edge to hold off his BKCP-Powerplus rival in a two-up sprint and claim the victory.
Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) rounded out the podium in third.
“For me this is a really good track. It’s fast, but it’s really technical, and I like it,” said Nys. “You really need to have a good feeling on the bike — I felt it last week too — my corners, my explosive accelerations were really strong, and so you can see I had a perfect day.”
For his part, Albert found the course a bit too technical, and said he was looking forward to next weekend’s racing.
“I had a good start, about fifth or sixth position, and I immediately took control of the race,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference, but Sven was very strong, and the course was very technical for me. Sven wins today, but maybe next week is my turn.”
A tough start
Joeri Adams had problems before he ever hit the technical bits. The Telenet-Fidea) hit the deck at the start and it was teammate Tom Meeusen who seized the early lead on the serpentine, technical course with Pauwels second and Nys lurking a few spots behind.
Pauwels took the front after a long sandy section and led Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb), Bart Aernouts (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) and a few others onto the pavement for the start of lap two. Nys led the first chase, and the two groups fused into a nine-man break as the lap wound on.
Albert moved into the lead with Nys on his wheel. Behind Radomir Simunek (BKCP) crashed hard, and Bart Wellens (Telenet) launched a furious chase, trying to catch the leaders.
But Albert put the pressure on, and the lead group shrank to three — the world champ, the Belgian champ and Lars Van der Haar (Rabobank).
Van der Haar had trouble matching the champions’ pace, but caught back on as the two leaders hit the pavement and it was a trio out front with six laps to go.
Pauwels led the first chase, but they were well down on the leaders as Albert continued to give it the gas. Nys wouldn’t take a pull, and Van der Haar couldn’t.
Then Pauwels drove forward from the chase and began closing on Van der Haar, who kept losing the wheel. At the sand pit the Rabobank rider was five seconds off the two leaders and Pauwels was gaining fast.
Pauwels caught Van der Haar as Albert led Nys up and over a flyover and onto a short staircase. Hitting the finishing straight with five laps remaining the two looked back to see the Sunweb rider charging forward with Van der Haar glued to his wheel.
Nys takes charge
As the chase closed in Nys finally took the front of what was now a four-man group and gave it some stick. Albert and Pauwels stayed with him, but Van der Haar lost contact once again.
Pauwels likewise lost ground, and Nys led Albert into the sand, where the Sunweb rider appeared to struggle. Nys led up the flyover, onto the stairs, and over a trio of whoop-de-doos, then put some daylight between himself and Albert going into four laps to go. Pauwels found himself further distanced with teammate Sven Vantornout and Van der Haar.
Up front, Nys put in little attacks at every opportunity, trying to wear Albert down, but the world champ regained the front after the sand as Pauwels found a second wind and chased alone some 17 seconds down.
With three laps to go, 43 minutes into the race, Albert led onto the tarmac, with Nys on his wheel and Pauwels chasing grimly. Meeusen was leading a second pursuit with Klaas Vantornout, Van der Haar and Aernouts.
Now it was Albert putting in the digs, trying to drop Nys. It wasn’t working, but his relentless accelerations helped keep Pauwels at bay, a dozen seconds behind.
Albert on the attack
Again the world champ led through the sand, but Nys stuck to him. Both men were tiring, and as they hit the tarmac with two laps to go Albert sat up and forced Nys into the lead. A dogged Pauwels continued his chase, but he was steadily losing ground.
Nys took a slight edge on a technical section rife with off-camber bits and dabs, but Albert fought back, staying within a few bike lengths. The gap widened, briefly, but Albert shut it down once again in the sand.
Come the bell lap, Nys gave Albert the eye and the world champ took the front once more. Both men glanced back to see Pauwels closing, perhaps a dozen seconds down. Van der Haar led the second chase some 45 seconds back.
With Pauwels resurgent the two leaders couldn’t afford to play any games, and Nys took the front and punched it, then ran a short off-camber bit that had been bedeviling him, keeping Albert behind him. Neither man could gain an advantage, but their battling sentenced Pauwels to third without parole.
On their last trip through the long sand pit Nys gunned it, taking a small edge over Albert. But the world champ battled back once again and it was looking like a two-up sprint for the win.
But Nys wouldn’t wait for a sprint. He attacked once more on a narrow stretch of pavement leading to the finishing straight, and Albert seemed finally to run out of gas.
The Belgian champion hit the straight in front and had bags of time to sit up, lean back and punch one fist skyward as he coasted across the line. The world champ hung on for second and a clearly weary Pauwels finished third.
Nys thus is the first leader of the 2012 Superprestige series with 15 points. Albert sits second with 14 and Pauwels third with 13.