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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) extended his World Cup lead on Saturday, beating teammate Klaas Vantornout in a two-up sprint at Milton Keynes’ Campbell Park.
The two had been part of an aggressive five-man lead group containing three national champions — Dutchman Lars van der Haar (Giant-Shimano), German Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus) and Frenchman Francis Mourey (FDJ.fr).
Belgian champ Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) was absent, having dropped his chain early on and fallen well behind the leaders.
Going into bell lap the lead group was down to a threesome, and once the Sunwebs shed Walsleben, it was a two-man, one-team fight to the finish — a battle that Pauwels won, slipping around an exhausted Vantornout just ahead of the line. Mourey hung on for third at 16 seconds back.
“Normally I’m faster in the sprint, but I had to do a lot of effort to keep up with Klaas, so I wasn’t sure I could win the sprint,” said Pauwels.
As for Vantornout, he said he gave it his best shot.
“I took the lead, and on the fast run-up I was full-running as hard as I can, but Kevin was also strong,” he said. “It’s one-and-two in the team, and it’s a very good job for us and for the World Cup.”
Mourey pronounced himself content with third place on a track that he said suited his strengths.
“It was a very muddy course; this is what I like the most, and what I’m used to racing back in France,” he said. “When I saw it I really liked it. I decided the podium was my target and I’m really happy with third place.”
Fast start for Pauwels
Pauwels was out front in heavy traffic as the elite men’s field thundered onto the muddy, demanding course.
A bit of bad luck saw Nys drop his chain on a running section. He and American champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) were both well back on the first lap as Pauwels pushed the pace in a group that included teammate Vantornout, Van der Haar, Walsleben, and Laurens Sweeck and Bart Aernouts (Corendon-Kwadro).
Walsleben soon took over, with Sascha Weber (Veranclassic-Doltcini) in tow, but they had little advantage over what was becoming a large group indeed. Then the German champ tried going off on his own, but slipped in a greasy corner and gave Pauwels the chance to catch back on.
At the end of the lap the duo had a slight advantage over a bunch led by Weber and Van der Haar. It grew to six seconds past the pits, and the chase strung out, with the Dutch champion on point and Mourey, Tom Meeusen (Telenet) and Vantornout for company, among others.
Van der Haar quickly made it to the leaders and slipped past Walsleben and Pauwels and into the lead with five laps to go.
Walsleben, Vantornout and Meeusen soon caught on, as did others, and Nys had finally worked his way through traffic and into sight of the front-runners. But Pauwels, Walsleben and Van der Haar kept the pressure on.
Mourey makes a move
Mourey was next to assert himself, but Pauwels, Walsleben, Vantornout and Van der Haar stayed close, and Corné Van Kessel (Telenet) latched on. That group took a four-second lead over Meeusen into four laps to go.
Van Kessel and Walsleben slid out on a greasy descent and the lead group was suddenly four: Pauwels, Mourey, Van der Haar and Vantornout. The World Cup leader gave it some stick and stretched the foursome out as Walsleben and Meeusen chased.
Then Mourey came forward again and led the way into three laps to go, just as Walsleben caught back on, while behind, Nys had worked his way into the top 10.
Van der Haar and Vantornout took turns on the front of the five-man group. The Dutchman laid down several sharp attacks but couldn’t lose the others, and then Pauwels surged back into the lead.
Meeusen and Van Kessel were chasing together a few seconds behind. With two to go, the Telenets were a half-dozen seconds behind the lead quintet at the line.
Mourey attacked again on a long muddy stretch leading to the pits and Vantornout went with him. Walsleben led the others, with Van der Haar dangling off the back.
Mourey was taking no prisoners. He and Vantornout charged up the barriered run-up, and while Pauwels and Walsleben stayed ciose, it seemed Van der Haar was beginning to fade.
As the bell rang for the final lap Mourey, Vantornout and Pauwels had a slight gap over Walsleben and Van der Haar.
Vantornout legs it into the lead
Then Vantornout showed himself, running away from the others in the slippery, muddy section that followed the start-finish.
Pauwels was first to collect himself and rejoin his teammate. Mourey was chasing at three seconds, with Van der Haar just behind.
Then Pauwels took charge once more as behind, Van der Haar caught Mourey. The two Sunwebs soon had four seconds, then six, over Van der Haar and Mourey.
Vantornout punched it on the barrier run, but Pauwels stuck close. The others didn’t. It was a two-man, one-team race as they hit the stairs.
Vantornout led out the sprint, but Pauwels came around him to take the win. Mourey hung on for third at 16 seconds.
Despite losing on the day, Vantornout was pleased with the one-two finish, which gave his teammate a nice cushion in the series standings. Pauwels now leads the World Cup with 220 points. Vantornout sits second with 185, while Corné Van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea) has third with 163.
“Kevin is leading with a very nice gap,” Vantornout said. “If he doesn’t make mistakes, I think we will have the [World Cup overall].”
Mourey, too, said he did what he could and had to be content with third on the day.
“I pushed hard in the penultimate lap to try to get a gap going into the last lap,” he said. “But it didn’t really work and I lost contact with Klaas and Kevin in the very beginning of that last lap. They went really fast in off-camber sections.
“I couldn’t come back, so from then on I decided I would try to preserve my podium place. In the back of my mind I was hoping one of them would slip and fall, but that didn’t happen. So I’m really happy with third place.”
The fourth round of the World Cup will be December 21 in Namur, Belgium.
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.