After the exciting, muddy racing that was the Scheldecross Antwerpen and Vlaamse Druivenveldrit last weekend, the European Elite turn now to Leuven, Belgium for the fourth round of the Soudal Classics on Sunday.
Last year, Sven Nys owned Leuven in the absence of his main rivals Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout and Tom Meeusen. Radomir Simunek, Rob Peeters, and Francis Mourey did their best to challenge the Kanibaal, with Peeters able to hold on the longest, but ultimately it was Nys’ race to lose as he stormed across the course in solo fashion.
In the women’s field, Marianne Vos did what Marianne Vos tends to do, soloing across the line more than two minutes ahead of second place Daphny van den Brand. With no start list yet posted, and the World Champion only making one appearance so far, it’s unknown if Vos will return to defend her win. If she does, however, it will be the first time this season that we see a showdown between her and the reigning World Cup leader, Katie Compton.
The absence of so many high-profile riders last year was perhaps the cause for recent comments by Nys on the importance of supporting the smaller races. “The strength of these small races is that they feature the big names in a real battle,” Nys told journalists after his win at World Cup Roubaix, via Cyclingnews. “That’s why so many people come to these races, but they’ll disappear if they’re not respected. It’s no longer my concern but it is that from the younger riders. Before the season they’re all signing contracts for all races. They feature on the race posters. When you’re getting tired because of all the races it’s tempting to skip some of these. To me, if you sign a contract with an organizer it’s a matter of respect that you take part in the race.”
Whether due to Nys’ comments or no, this weekend will see all the big names in contention: Nys, Albert, Pauwels, Vanthourenhout, Van der Haar, Peeters, Meeusen and Wellens have all committed to being on the start line. Albert, who last year skipped the race due to a cold, was adamant that he would not do so this season: “Scratching races from my program is not an option. I will not do that. I will give the best of myself wherever I race,” he said, via Cyclingnews.
There have been three different winners in the three different rounds of the Soudal Classics, with Nys claiming the first at GP Neerpelt, Albert at Jaarmarktcross Niel, and Pauwels last week at Antwerpen. For the women, the first two rounds went to Nikki Harris, and last weekend’s to Katie Compton.