Wout Van Aert attacked on the steeps of the Koppenbergcross to win round two of the Bpost Bank Trofee series on Sunday in Oudenaarde.
The Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace rider shot away from a strong chase and past front-runners Thijs van Amerongen (Telenet-Fidea) and Diether Sweeck (ERA Real Estate-Murprotec) to take the lead with just over three laps remaining.
Once away, he rarely looked back, taking his second consecutive Bpost win by 31 seconds ahead of Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) with Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) third a half-dozen ticks of the clock later.
“I don’t know if you can say I had no competition, it was a hard pedal in the beginning and we stayed long together,” said Van Aert. “But of course in the second part of the race I felt strong and I could make a difference on the hard part of the Koppenberg. Afterwards it was three laps full gas and fighting against myself. It’s beautiful to take the victory in this beautiful race.”
Julien Taramarcaz (ERA Real Estate-Murprotec) led the men up and over into the first descent, chased by Corné Van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea) and a small group containing round-one winner Van Aert, whose teammate Jens Adams was sidelined early by a mechanical.
The group quickly grew larger as other contenders latched on. Van der Haar and Van Aert both showed some speed on the climb the next trip around the brutal circuit, with Van Aert taking the front and leading the others down the steep, technical descent.
Van Amerongen attacked ahead of the line the next time through, and Sweeck followed. None of the other contenders wanted to take the responsibility of mounting a serious chase on the brutal course, and with four laps to go the duo took more than 20 seconds over a small group led by van der Haar and quickly joined by Van Aert.
Then Van Aert charged up to and past the leaders at the topmost pit, taking a lead of seven seconds into three to go.
“The lap before I was a little bit not concentrated and I got in only 15th position maybe in the field. For me it was a sign that maybe I have to wake up and stay focused,” he said. “So the next lap I closed the gap to the group of Lars, and it’s always better to make your attack after a lap where there is already a high pace. Then it’s more easy to get a gap.
“I think that was the right moment to attack. I could see afterwards that it definitely was and the attack was hard enough to make a nice advantage.”
As Van Aert powered away, van der Haar led Tom Meeusen (Telenet) up to and away from the two former front-runners, as Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) took charge of a second chase with Pauwels.
But Meeusen flamed out, and Pauwels got away from Nys, and with two to go van der Haar was 20 seconds down on Van Aert, with Pauwels right behind. Nys was closing on Meeusen at more than a half-minute down.
Going into bell lap Van Aert had 38 seconds over the van der Haar-Pauwels pursuit. Meussen and Nys were more than a minute down, with van Amerongen just behind.
“I just hoped [Van Aert] was going to make a mistake and he didn’t,” said van der Haar.
Then Pauwels, who had been sitting in, attacked van der Haar on the final climb as behind, Nys saw his race ended by a mechanical.
“In the last lap [Pauwels] came in my wheel and I knew it was going to be really tough to be second,” said van der Haar. “He also didn’t take over, which I also understood. I just thought I’d keep riding for the podium because what if Nys or Tom Meeusen comes back and you’re fourth, then you’re really not happy. So I just kept riding.”
In the end, that worked to the Sunweb rider’s advantage. While Pauwels would not catch Van Aert, he did hold off van der Haar for the runner-up spot.
“Today I had some problems with the heat,” said Pauwels. “I was thirsty and could not get to the front in the beginning. So when Van Aert went, I was much too far away. However, on the climbs I could move up every time.
“Whether I can quickly win a first major race? I have to hope for a bad day for Van Aert and a good day for me.”
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report from Oudenaarde.