Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) sailed to a solo victory on Sunday in the third round of the Superprestige series.
With just over five laps to go in Ruddervoorde Pauwels rode away from Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), and he stayed gone, winning by 15 seconds over a late-charging Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) with Nys third at 28 seconds.
“I was finally in a good way,” said Pauwels, who added that he “pulled out all the stops” on Sunday.
Pauwels and Meeusen led early, with Nys and Van Aert within striking distance and Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) chasing.
Pauwels, Nys and Meeusen got a little separation after a tricky, sandy descent, taking five seconds over a trio led by Van Aert. Van der Haar had trouble with the sand and had lost ground going into the third lap.
Meeusen finally lost the wheel as Pauwels drove the pace. Behind, Van Aert was chasing, but getting no help from Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb).
Then Nys crashed in a corner and Meeusen caught him as Pauwels rolled away.
With five to go Nys and Meeusen were five seconds down on Pauwels, with the Van Aert-Vantornout pursuit at twice that and van der Haar clearly on a bad day at 30 seconds down.
A lap later Pauwels was riding flawlessly off the front, while Van Aert had left Vantornout, passed Meeusen and was closing in on Nys. Then he dispatched Nys as well.
But the veteran Belgian fought back, and with three to go the two were locked together a dozen seconds behind Pauwels, who was riding with a water bottle after complaining of thirst in last weekend’s racing.
“One time I was worried,” Pauwels said. “When I noticed that Van Aert had returned with Nys.”
But as Pauwels heard the bell for the final lap he had a solid 20-second edge on the two pursuers.
Nys slipped around Van Aert but couldn’t shake him. And in the end, Van Aert took his own dig in the final lap, finally gapping Nys. He wouldn’t catch Pauwels, but he would deny second to the Belgian veteran.
Van Aert admitted to being disappointed with his runner-up finish, but said he at least managed to limit the damage on a course that didn’t suit his strengths.
“I really couldn’t go any faster,” he said. “Kevin was just better today.”
Nys likewise tipped his hat to Pauwels, saying he “was really impressive today.”
Van Aert continues to lead the Superprestige series with 44 points. Pauwels sits second, tied on points (37) with third-placed Nys.
The fourth round of the series will be November 15 at Asper-Gavere.