Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) won a muddy Superprestige Asper-Gavere cyclocross race Sunday, ahead of teammate Kevin Pauwels.
After a poor start, Belgian champion Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) clawed his way into third place on the final lap, just ahead of Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea).
“I was very strong today, I had a very good day,” Vantornout said. “I was asking for rain the days before, and it was raining, so it was very hard. I like the track, it’s very technical, with power, running. It’s everything in it. It’s for the pure cyclocrossers.”
The hilly, tree-lined Asper-Gavere course offered the 2014-15 season’s first true mud race, favoring the sport’s true bike handlers over those who excel in pure speed conditions.
For much of the final laps it seemed clear that Vantornout, Pauwels, or Meeusen would take the win. The trio went clear with several laps remaining, opening a lead that hovered between 15 and 25 seconds.
On the penultimate lap, Meeusen and Pauwels momentarily tangled bikes on one of the course’s many running sections, allowing Vantornout to open a small gap. With Pauwels playing the team card, Meeusen was forced to drive the chase, and after Meeusen bobbled on the final lap, Sunweb finished first and second.
Meeusen had a strong start, and quickly went to the front of the race, along with young Dutch phenom Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus). Pauwels bridged across, and the three riders opened an early lead.
Nys had a poor start, and at one point was nearly one minute back from the head of the race.
“Not a great start is not a problem with a race like this because you need to have a good heart rate the whole race so that you can do something special in the last laps, and that’s what I wanted to do before the race,” Nys said. “And that happened. But on the second or third lap my chain came off, and that cost me 15, 20 seconds, and that’s the reason I couldn’t close the gap in the end of the race. I felt that I was strong enough to do something special, but in the middle of the race it was 55 seconds, and that gap is just too big.”
Struggling on the slippery, muddy course, Pauwels lost contact with Meeusen and van der Poel at the front; behind, Vantornout, Rob Peeters (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), and German national champion Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus) led the chase.
After 15 minutes of racing, van der Poel, the Superprestige series leader, led the race.
Dutch national champion Lars van der Haar (Giant) chased, 25 seconds back, with Nys 47 seconds down.
At the midway point of the hour-long race, five riders led — Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Meeusen, Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout, and Philipp Walsleben.
An attack from Vantornout saw Walsleben gapped off, while van der Haar rode his way into sixth, 15 seconds back, and Nys had worked his way into ninth.
With three laps remaining, Vantornout, Pauwels and Meeusen led the race, with van der Haar and van der Poel 16 seconds back; Nys and Walsleben, were another 12 seconds down, at 28 seconds behind the leaders.
With two laps to go, the leading trio held a 24-second gap over Nys, van der Haar, and van der Poel.
With Pauwels playing the team card, Meeusen was forced to drive the chase.
Crossing the finish line with one lap remaining, Vantornout led Meeusen and Pauwels by seven seconds; Nys and van der Haar were 23 seconds back.
When Meussen nearly crashed on the final lap, Pauwels opened up a gap, opening the door for Sunweb to take the first two spots, while behind, Nys reeled in Meeusen just before the finish line, to take the final podium spot.
“You need to have the good skills and you need to have the power to do something special in the last laps, but don’t use it too early in the race, because otherwise it’s suffering until the end,” Nys said. “And that’s what I felt, that I was doing it really on the way I wanted. The only thing that happened was the mechanical problems, that cost me maybe the victory today.”
Meeusen finished fourth, van der Haar finished fifth, and van der Poel finished sixth.
Nys took over leadership of the Superprestige series, with 52 points, to van der Poel’s 50 points, while Vantornout and van der Haar are tied, in third place, at 49 points.