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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) escaped Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) on the final lap to win the GP Hasselt on Saturday.
The two had been locked together for several laps on the fast, twisting circuit, chased by Bpost Bank Trofee series leader Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea).
But Pauwels finally got the better of Van Aert in a long sandy stretch, opening a gap of just a few seconds that would be all he’d need.
The Sunweb rider took the victory by three seconds, while Meeusen led Nys to the line for third a half-minute later.
“I felt good today,” Pauwels told the website sport.be. “In the sand I pulled through and I could extend my lead during subsequent laps.”
Van Aert conceded that Pauwels was the better man, “especially on the technical sections.” Pauwels was bunny-hopping the barriers while Van Aert ran them, and that wound up costing the younger rider.
“Kevin was just the strongest today,” Van Aert said.
Lars Van der Haar (Giant-Shimano) fought back from a bad day on the bike that included a botched bunny-hop to finish fifth, more than a minute down. Another bunny-hop victim was Sven Vanthourenhout (Crelan), who started well but finished seventh after his tumble.
Nys now leads the Bpost Bank Trofee series in 4:07:42, with Pauwels still second at 1:07 and Van Aert third at 1:31.
As regards the overall standings, Pauwels said he might still have a shot at the top spot with four rounds remaining.
“I did not expect that I could make up so much time,” he said. “Maybe there is something possible, but that remains to be seen. I can have a bad day.”
Nys had already had one, saying he did not start well and “tried to lose as little time as possible.”
“I lost it today in the first lap,” he said.
In women’s racing, Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) continued her strong season, riding away from world road champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo-Liv) and series leader Sophie de Boer (Kalas-NNOF).
“It was a fast course, and there were few places where you could make a difference,” said Cant, who collected her 13th victory of the season through slipping away “meter by meter.”
De Boer leads the series in 3:02:30, with Ellen Van Loy (Telenet) second at 1:33 and Cant third at 3:08.
The next round of the series will be the Cyclocross Essen on December 20.