DIEGEM, Belgium (VN) — Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) soloed to victory under the lights on Sunday during the Diegem stop of the Superprestige series.
The world champion rode away from Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) on a slight rise with four laps to go and then powered alone to the finish to take his fourth consecutive victory here.
Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb) escaped a large chase with Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), then opened a gap over the Czech in the last minutes of the bell lap to snatch second. Stybar hung on for third.
Albert and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) both got off to a bad start, but only Albert recovered with any success. While Nys worked his way through traffic and into the chase group on the final lap, eventually finishing seventh, he never was a factor in the race.
“I just wasn’t good enough,” Nys said. “It’s always difficult for me to win, but this time I just had bad legs. I tried to limit the damage.”
Albert said a problem with the starting lights left both him and Nys chasing.
“Suddenly someone clapped his hands and there was a whistle and everyone left,” he said. “Very confusing. Nys and I were surprised.”
No surprise here
One rider not caught off guard was Lars Van Der Haar (Rabobank), who bolted off the line in his trademark bid for the hole shot and took the early lead. Pauwels quickly took over with Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) on his wheel. Van Der Haar, Peeters and Vantornout all battled for the point as Stybar lurked just behind with Bart Aernouts (AA Drink).
As round one ended Vantornout, Peeters and Stybar were out front with Aernouts leading the pursuit. Albert and Nys were still well out of contention after their poor starts.
The lead group grew as Aernouts, Van Der Haar, Pauwels, Radomir Simunek (BKCP) and Albert eventually latched on.
With five to go Vantornout opened a smidgen of daylight going past the pits and Stybar led the chase. Then Albert leaped away through a long, sandy stretch, joining the Sunweb rider at the front and quickly taking command.
A lap later the two had perhaps eight seconds on a chase led by Pauwels. And then Albert accelerated away from Vantornout on a slight rise and was gone, leaving his erstwhile companion to fall back to the chase, containing Pauwels, Stybar, Van Der Haar, Vantornout. Peeters and Simunek.
With three to go Stybar was on point, but the pursuit was already two dozen seconds down. A lap later Pauwels and Van Der Haar shot out of the chase, but Stybar dragged the others back up to them.
Van Der Haar had another go, this time by himself, but was caught once more. And as the race entered bell lap, there was a nine-man gang fight for second going on.
Just as Nys finally caught the chase, Stybar punched it, and he and Pauwels got away. Vantornout took the front of the chase, a few seconds down, and Nys bobbled in a U-turn and found himself distanced again.
Stybar attacked again, and once more Pauwels stayed with him. Vantornout was just behind, either unable or unwilling to close the gap on his teammate, who was sitting third in the Superprestige standings. The remaining six chasers were distanced.
Pauwels seals second
Pauwels pinched off Stybar in a right U-turn with Vantornout just behind and took a slight advantage over the former world champion.
As Albert posted up for the win, both hands in the air, Pauwels accelerated and led Stybar onto the finishing straight. He held his advantage for second and Stybar coasted across for third.
The world champion was happy to have fought his way back for the victory and said he still hoped to have a shot at the overall title, but was more focused on defending his rainbow jersey in the United States.
“I’m glad my form at the moment is very good,” Albert said. “Baal [on January 1] is still very important to me, but I am now anxious for the championships.”
Nys continues to lead the Superprestige series with 83 points. But Albert and Pauwels are closing in, with 78 and 75, respectively, and just two rounds of the series remaining — February 10 in Hoogstraten and February 16 in Middelkerke.
“I guess I’m still not recovered from this difficult period,” said Nys. “The vessel is completely empty. I’ll try to recharge the batteries, but I don’t know how the coming weeks will be.”
American Jonathan Page finished 23rd, three and a half minutes off the pace.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Diegem.