Tight Course, Clogged Lines
As the riders surged off the wet line, Lars van der Haar (Rabobank) led the charge. The long straightaway, however, gave Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) enough time to wind up and take the holeshot. As the racers came into the early barriers, it was Peeters and teammate Wout van Aert, followed by Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), leading the way. The race soon entered the tight, sinewy section of the course – a narrow, severely vertical up and down that had sharp 180’s and little room to navigate – and the racers soon found themselves near gridlocked as riders clawed their way up the clogged runup. Sven Nys, Tom Meeusen, and Bart Wellens were among those caught up in the traffic, and the blockage would prove to end their bid for the win. By the time they came around for the second lap, Nys, Meeusen and Wellens were in their own small group, 13 seconds off the lead pack containing fifteen riders, Albert and Pauwels among them.
Rob Peeters took over duty at the front, with Niels Albert in second position, followed by Bart Aernouts (AA Drink), Marcel Meisen (BKCP-Powerplus) and Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus). Albert, however, wasted little time coming around Peeters and opening up the throttle, gapping the rest of the group and quickly establishing a ten second cushion over the long string of chasers. It was the last time any of the racers would catch sight of the World Champion, as he set about completing the fastest lap of the race. Well behind them all, Nys continued to lag off the lead, his usual dominance looking somewhat restrained.
As Albert came across the line for the third lap, his teammate Philip Walsleben (BKCP Powerplus) led the chase, crossing fifteen seconds later with Klaas Vantornout on his wheel, followed by Peeters, Meisen, Dieter and Sven Vanthourenhout, Aernouts, Wietse Bosmans, Swiss champion Julien Taramarcaz and Pauwels.
For the remainder of the race, Albert’s lead continued to grow as the world champion had the open course ahead of him. The lead group shed a few riders, creating a pack of nine, with Nys finally finding his legs and bridging the gap to latch himself on to the tail end of the group. Although there was still a large amount of racing left, Albert’s lead had become all but insurmountable, as he came across the finish line for the fourth lap with a 40 second gap over the chasers.
With first place all but secured, the race for second became the one to watch, as the large group of riders continued to trade leads, expanding and contracting, but by and large remaining intact. As Nys continued to dangle off the back, the chase was mostly shared between the teams of Sunweb-Revor and BKCP-Powerplus. Bart Wellens, who had been riding well, missed his bunny hop on the barriers and crashed face first into the ground. He took long moments to return to his bike, appearing stunned.
The pack held until Philip Walsleben launched an attack of his own with four laps to go, throwing himself at the course and opening up a narrow gap over the rest of the chasers, with Pauwels and Peeters giving chase behind. The two soon caught the BKCP rider, but as the trio came through the pits, Peeters got caught out with a slow exchange, leaving Pauwels to push the chase with Walsleben on his wheel. They crossed the line with three to go a full minute behind Albert.
Pauwels quickly shed Walsleben through the tortuous section of wooded course, and set about securing second position. As Albert and Pauwels raced solo ahead of him, Nys did what he does so well and appeared, as if out of nowhere, on the wheel of Walsleben. The Belgian champion took a few moments with the two chasers, and then launched past them to chase alone in third position. The podium, once again, would go to the three Belgians.
Ahead of Nys, Pauwels had begun to carve into Albert’s lead, crossing the line forty seconds behind the world champion, but his faster laps would prove to be too little, too late. Albert went through the pits for one final time, picked up a clean bike, and had long moments to raise his hands in victory, clearly happy with his commanding performance. Pauwels crossed the line in second, with Nys in third, followed closely by Rob Peeters.
Bart Hazen Photo Gallery
1. Niels Albert
2. Kevin Pauwels
3. Sven Nys
4. Rob Peeters
5. Tom Meeusen
6. Bart Aernouts
7. Philip Walsleben
8. Sven Vanthourenhout
9. Wietse Bosmons
10. Bart Wellens
11. Julien Taramarcaz