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ESSEN, Belgium (VN) — What could have been a sweet return to cyclocross turned sour for Zdenek Stybar on Saturday as he was relegated for an irregular sprint that felled Jan Denuwelaere at the finish of the Bpost Bank Trofee stop in Essen.
The two were part of a four-man group battling for the victory in the final lap of the Grand Prix Rouwmoer, and Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was leading out the sprint. Denuwelaere tried to come around the former world champion on the left, but Stybar shut the door on him, the two tangled and the Style & Concept rider found himself forced into the crowd barriers and then to the ground, where he slid across the line in what appeared to be a photo-finish with Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea).
Stybar managed to stay upright and hit the line first, but Denuwelaere was awarded the victory, and the Omega Pharma rider was relegated to last place in the group, behind Denuwelaere, Peeters and world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus).
Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), who lost contact with the group following a mechanical, was best of the rest in fifth at 32 seconds down.
Stybar apologized for the mishap, which he called “extremely unfortunate.”
“I saw Jan on my left and wanted to close the door, but he was very fast,” Stybar said. “So we were shoulder to shoulder, and then I lost balance. I’m very sorry.”
Earlier in the day, Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) returned to the top step of the podium, winning the women’s race ahead of European champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team) and Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea).
A muddy welcome back for Stybar
Stybar picked one heck of a day to make his abbreviated return to cyclocross, after which he will return his focus to the road. The 2.5km course was an absolute quagmire, with standing water and soupy mud throughout.
Nevertheless he was in the mix from the gun, battling with Nys, Albert and the Sunweb teammates Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels. The five quickly former a lead group and going into the second lap they had a slight advantage over a chase headed by Thijs van Amerongen (AA Drink).
Going into the third lap Stybar ran into the lead as the chase closed in, led now by Peeters. As the Telenet rider latched on, followed by Denuwelaere, Vantornout took off, briefly getting some daylight before fumbling a sandy hummock and losing the lead to Albert. Pauwels came to grief, too, and fell out of the group.
With four to go Denuwelaere had emerged as the leader, pursued by Nys, Albert, Stybar, Vantornout and Peeters. The Style & Concepts rider was proving tough to catch — they reeled him in at the barriers only to see him open another gap in a long, soupy stretch leading to a staircase flyover.
The group reforms
But with two laps remaining he had company. Peeters led Denuwelaere, Nys and Vantornout over the line. Albert was slightly off the back with Stybar.
Nys took charge going into the barriers, with Denuwelaere second. And then Peeters seized the lead in the soupy section, taking a six-second lead before finally being dragged back in time for bell lap.
Stybar led into the final go-round, which saw Nys scramble his drivetrain in a gooey U-turn and drop out of the group. Then Albert attacked into the lead going into another hairpin, only to be repaid by Denuwelaere, who laid down another acceleration in the soup. He nearly broke clear, but botched his remount on the stair and it was still a four-man lead group, with Nys fighting to rejoin.
Albert took the lead, briefly opening a short gap, only to see Stybar blast past on the sandy hummock. Denuwelaere grabbed his wheel and the others followed, setting up the sprint finale, which would prove such an unsatisfactory conclusion to what had been a real thriller of a race.
“I’m very happy he’s all right,” said Stybar. “It was my mistake and I fully accept fourth place.”
Albert continues to lead the Bpost standings after four rounds with a combined time of 3:52:29. Nys sits second overall at 47 seconds down with Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) third at 3:52.