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Belgian champion Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) rode the pack off his wheel on the second lap to win the first round of the Bpost Bank Trophy series on Sunday.
Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus), who after winning last week’s Superprestige round at Gieten got off to another fast start at the Cyclocross Ronse-Kluisbergen, escaped a strong chase with just over two laps to race, taking second on the day, 50 seconds down on Nys, though he nearly gave the runner-up spot away with a botched showboating jump on the final lap.
Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) couldn’t quite take advantage of van der Poel’s bobble and finished third, five seconds later, as Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb) edged Lars van der Haar (Giant-Shimano) in a photo finish for fourth.
“It’s a hard course, definitely, and I’m really happy with the result and with the gap I had at the finish because it’s the first race of a GC, of a classification, and when you can start like this it’s motivating to see what’s going to happen in the rest of the season,” said Nys.
“It’s a hard course, but it’s also really fast. The rain was not here today like last year, so it made it not so technical. You need to have a good speed the whole race, but the hardest part was at the finish line. The wind was a headwind and it is hard when you’re riding alone. When the guys are staying in the bunch they can have a little more rest on some parts of the track. But I had a good pace and it was strong enough to win today.”
A fast start
As the first lap got under way the audacious van der Poel quickly put six seconds on a chase led by Nys with Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) sitting third.
As Nys caught van der Poel, world champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) shot forward to take the lead of what was a 10-man lead group going into lap two.
Van der Poel took over again early in the lap as Pauwels slipped into third, ahead of Nys. But Stybar and Nys soon began throwing down, too, and Nys took the lead on a long, grassy run-up.
The Belgian champ quickly opened his own bit of daylight over Stybar and van der Poel and took a seven-second lead into the start of lap three, with eight to go. Van der Poel kept the pressure on in the pursuit forging a four-man chase with Pauwels, Vantornout and van der Haar. Stybar was leading a second chase just behind.
With seven to go Nys had extended his advantage to 13 seconds, and van der Haar and Pauwels came forward to help drive the chase.
Nys takes charge
A lap later Nys was all by himself and setting an unrelenting pace, 21 seconds ahead of the pursuit. Van der Haar seemed to be struggling a bit, and the second chase was down to Meeusen and Stybar.
With five to go Nys was a full half-minute up on the Pauwels-Vantornout chase. Stybar and Meeusen were hovering just behind.
Pauwels pried open a small gap on the lap, forcing van der Poel to chase, with Vantornout on his wheel, and finally popping van der Haar off the back.
Next time through the start-finish Nys led by 35 seconds, and van der Haar was five seconds off the first chase with Stybar and Meeusen 20 seconds behind. But the Dutch rider fought back on as the lap came to a close.
Van der Poel makes his move
With three to go Nys was 48 seconds in front of the four-man chase, with Meeusen and Stybar at 1:17. Van der Haar tried a move in mid-lap, and then van der Poel made one that stuck, opening a gap over the rest of the chase and hitting the line three-quarters of a minute behind Nys.
A lap later Nys still had the better of van der Poel by 47 seconds. Behind the first chase, Meeusen managed to escape Stybar.
Come bell lap, Nys was holding his edge, 48 seconds up on van der Poel. Vantornout led van der Haar and Pauwels over the line at 1:10, with Meeusen at1:37 and Stybar at 1:46.
The Belgian champ had a rare miscue on the final go-round, dumping his bike heading into a grassy run-up, but he had plenty of time to recover and got straight back to business. Nys finished with nearly a minute’s advantage over van der Poel, who was best of the rest.
“It was a really hard one,” said van der Poel. ” When I did the first three laps at my maximum, the lap after I had to recover and it was very difficult.”
For his part, Nys tipped his hat to his young rival.
“I saw in summer already he’s really talented, he’s really strong, and he was also really strong on the worlds in his first year as an under-23,” said Nys. “So he’s a guy for the future and we’re going to see him a lot this year.”
As for Stybar, despite suffering on the tough circuit the world champ was enjoying himself after a long road season.
“It was really hard for me, I suffered a lot, but actually I had a pretty good start. …” he said. “But the running part, there I suffered really a lot, because the legs are really not ready for running. And when you have to pace every time during the race, and then the running, that was killing my legs. It was two times of a really steep climb, and that’s really killing the legs. But, okay, I had fun, actually.”
De Boer takes a big win
In women’s racing, Sophie De Boer (Kalas-NNOF) took the victory by seven seconds over Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team). Jolien Verschueren (Wielerteam Decock-Woningbouw Vandekerckhove) finished third at 16 seconds.
“There was a crash in the front of the race and I was lucky, I had to brake really hard, but I could pass them a bit. And then Helen (Wyman) and Nikki (Harris) already had a gap,” said De Boer. “In the first few laps I had really heavy legs, I didn’t feel totally recovered, so I thought, ‘I need to do my own race.’ And slowly I could close the gap.”
Harris faded after her fast start, and Wyman had a mechanical, and that provided the opening De Boer needed.
“Helen had something with her chain and I could make a gap and I thought, ‘Well, I just need to go,’ and I kept going,” she said. “I tried to ride the course as smooth as possible to make not too many mistakes, but I felt in the last lap running it was so hard, and I didn’t really enjoy it because it was really hard and we had to do six laps.
“It was my first big win, and it’s unbelievable that it’s also this race, such a hard one.”
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.