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Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) rode a nearly flawless race on Sunday to win the second round of the Superprestige series in Zoonhoven.
The Belgian national champion put on a sand-riding clinic, distancing his rivals early in the second lap and making no mistakes as he had the course all to himself.
Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) emerged as best of the rest, taking second on the day, with Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) rounding out the podium in third.
Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) was the top American in 29th.
Wellens gets holeshot
Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) was quickest off the line but world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step) quickly moved past him on the dry, sandy course, with its steep run-ups and treacherous descents, one of which saw several spectacular crashes as riders somersaulted over the bars.
Pauwels was with him, as was Albert, who slipped past and into the lead on a long, flat sandy stretch that gave Stybar problems, as did another uphill bit that set the world champ afoot, taking him out of contact with what had become an all-Belgian, three-man lead group, with Albert, Pauwels and Nys.
At the end of the first lap the threesome had a handful of seconds over a large chase led by Stybar.
But it wasn’t a threesome for long. Early in lap two Albert twisted the throttle and left his companions behind, riding sections the others were forced to run and taking a 10-second lead.
Albert gets going
Going into the third lap Albert had a dozen seconds over Nys and Pauwels, with Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant) leading a second chase a few moments behind.
The deep sand was giving Pauwels fits, and Nys slipped away from him as the second chase closed in. Ahead, Albert was all alone with six laps to go, 15 seconds ahead of Nys and 22 ahead of Pauwels. Stybar led Aernouts and Tom Meeusen (Telenet) a few seconds further down.
Before long the Stybar group had overhauled Pauwels, but the two men up front remained firmly in charge of first and second.
With five to go Nys remained 15 seconds down with the Pauwels-Stybar chase at 40 seconds.
Meeusen takes a digger
Then Meeusen decked it on the long sandy descent and took out Aernouts, who locked up his front wheel and flipped right onto Meeusen’s bike. The Telenet rider retrieved his machine and continued, but Aernouts needed a little more time to get going again.
Four laps to go and Albert seemed untouchable, more than 20 seconds ahead of Nys with Pauwels a distant third. A lap later nothing had changed — Nys was getting no closer to the leader, and Pauwels remained well behind second place. Behind, Stybar and Wellens were battling for fourth.
Two laps to go: Albert remained alone out front, with Nys at 26 seconds and Pauwels a minute down.
Bell lap: The Belgian champion took a lead of 29 seconds into the final go-round. Nys was solidly in possession of second, with Pauwels third at 1:04.
And that was the podium — his final trip around the course backed by a cascade of applause, Albert took a well-deserved win, hands clasped together as though in prayer. Nys took a grim second with a wide-eyed Pauwels third.
Stybar escaped a weary Wellens to take fourth.
Albert now leads the series with 30 points. Nys is second with 26 and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) third with 23. Round three of the 10-race series will be November 13 in Hamme-Zogge.
Van Paassen takes women’s race
Earlier in the day, Sanne Van Paassen (Brainwash) won the women’s Superprestige stop in Zonhoven.
Despite taking a header in the sand put the Dutch rider rode to a convincing victory ahead of Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea) with Sabrina Stultiens (Netherlands) third.
“I can say that today I was clearly the best,” said Van Paassen. “I want to finish the season in February with a satisfied feeling and at least one champion’s jersey.”
Amy Dombroski (Crank Brothers) was top American in ninth.
- 1. Niels Albert, BKCP-Powerplus
- 2. Sven Nys, Landboukrediet
- 3. Kevin Pauwels, Sunweb-Revor
- 4. Zdenek Stybar, Quick Step
- 5. Bart Wellens, Telenet-Fidea
- 1. Sanne Van Paassen, Brainwash
- 2. Nikki Harris, Telenet-Fidea
- 3. Sabrina Stultiens, Netherlands
- 4. Sanne Cant, BKCP-PowerPlus
- 5. Pavla Havlikova, Telenet-Fidea