Score one for the home team. The Belgian cyclo-cross squad began what fans hope will become a pattern for the weekend when 17-year-old Kevin Pauwels soloed in to take the junior men’s race at the cyclo-cross world championships in Zolder, Belgium, on Saturday.
Pauwels had spent the bulk of his 45-minute race cutting away at a sizeable lead group that was eventually pared down to just two.
After a furiously fast start on the paved start/finish straight of Zolder’s local auto track, Pauwels emerged at the head of a lead group that hit the steep, sandy opening climb that quickly broke apart the field of 65.
It was that same climb – a steep, sandy grade that started within a few hundred meters of the start – that had the opposite effect on two members of the U.S. squad. Americans Aaron Bradford and Jesse Anthony were caught up in traffic and stumbled to a halt as the leaders quickly built their advantage.
Pauwels, Poland’s Krzysztof Kuzniak and Czech riders Zdenek Stybar and Jaroslav Kulhavy were clearly the most aggressive of the bunch as they traded the lead in a group that varied in size from 5 to 15 for much of the six-lap race.
Pauwels later said he was surprised at Kuzniak’s strength and ability to respond to repeated attacks in the opening lap. But the Pole stayed with young Belgian and eventually the race came down to just the two.
On the final pass through the hilly 3km course that wound its way over and through the woods around the Zolder race track, Pauwels tried a final charge. This time it stuck and he soon had an unbeatable gap, though he continued to cast nervous glances over his shoulder as he approached the finish line.
“I was surprised (Kuzniak) was able to stay with me on the first lap,” Pauwels later said in his post-race press conference. “By the last lap, I was surprised that he couldn’t.”
CYCLO-CROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, FEBRUARY 2-3, 2002, ZOLDER, BELGIUM
1. Kevin Pauwels (B), 18.288k in 43.41 (25.119kph); 2. Krzysztof Kuzniak (Pol), at 0:11; 3. Zdenek Stybar (Cz), at 0:15; 4. Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cz), at 0:26; 5. Mike Thielemans (B), at 0:34.
Americans: 22. Aaron Bradford (USA), at 1:30; 33. Jesse Anthony (USA), at 2:54; 39. Mike House (USA), at 3:52; 40. Brent Bookwalter (USA), at 4:20; 49. Chris Hill (USA), at 5:20.