ANTWERP, BELGIUM – On a chilly, sunny winter day along banks of the river Scheldt, the Elite men gathered to test their skills on another sandy course. It was a solid, but ultimately unlucky day for Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet KDL), who led and animated much of the race but lost in a two-up sprint with Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) when he slipped out of his pedal while in the lead. This is the second time a pedal mishap has left Nys watching a Sunweb-Revor racer ride away from him – Klaas Vantornout took the win at Superprestige Gieten after a similar slip – but that is not to take away from a stellar performance by Kevin Pauwels, whose run of bad luck seems finally to have left him. Pauwels rode a commanding and clean, race, making the selection when needed and calmly holding Nys’ wheel when the Belgian champion attacked through the sands. Though Pauwels looked to have lost the upper hand as Nys led the final turns of the race, he wound up for the sprint as well, and was able to take advantage of Nys’ momentary slip and power his way to what has to be an incredibly gratifying win after a season of crashes, mechanicals, and missteps. Niels Albert, unable to hang on when Nys pressed his advantage in the sand, rolled in a few seconds behind, in third.
Nys Opens His Account Early
When the gun went off, it was Simon Zahner (EKZ) who took the holeshot, followed by Nys’ teammate, Sven Vanthourenhout, who then immediately took to the front to lead the opening salvos. Nys himself was close behind, with the other usual suspects – Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout, and Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) – an additional handful of riders behind.
Once they hit the sand, it did not take long for Nys to take to the front, leading Vanthourenhout ahead of a train of BKCP riders – Dieter Vanthuorenhout, Radomir Simunek, and Wietse Bosmans – and quickly creating a five-second gap behind them. The gap was immediate, catching the Sunweb-Revor team, and Albert, out as Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) led the chase. By the time they crossed the start finish line, Nys had nine seconds over his chasers.
Through the sand again, and this time it was Radomir Simunek who was able to hold onto Nys as the Belgian champion again caused a split, with the remaining chasers a dangling lure for Pauwels and Jim Aernouts (Sunweb-Revor) to grab on to. Albert was still further behind, part of the remaining chase. As they hit the stairs for the second time, Simunek slipped and hit the steps hard, just as the Sunweb-Revor duo made contact. The disruption allowed Nys to maintain a small gap, but by the start finish line it appeared that they had been all but caught, and the opening moves neutralized.
Nys was not finished making Pauwels work, however, and used the sand on the front half of the course to push his advantage a bit longer. Pauwels persisted and made contact with Nys, along with Simon Zahner (EKZ) on the back half. It was now a lead group of five, with Albert leading a close chase behind, making contact by the time the leaders hit the sand on the next round.
Pauwels Shows He’s Not Out for the Season
As Nys gave up his lead and slotted in a few riders back, Pauwels decided he was not content resting, and instead took to the front and launched himself away from the group. The move was dangerous – Pauwels was clearly not making a feint – and Nys was the only rider to respond, surging around the BKCP riders and quickly eating into Pauwel’s lead. A few moments later, Niels Albert turned on his engine as well, escaping from the chasers and putting on a solo pursuit of the lead duo. A slow transition through the sand by Pauwels allowed Albert to catch on, and once again, halfway through the race, the podium was decided – all that remained was to determine the order.
Or perhaps not – as the trio up front eased off the throttle with three to go, perhaps each unwilling to take the others to the line, Radomir Simunek and his BKCP teammates were leading an impassioned chase behind. It was Jim Aernouts, however, who capitalized on the pursuit, jumping the gap on the sand section and making the lead trio a quartet. The rest of the chasers could not quite make contact, and remained a solid eight seconds behind coming into the back half of the course. They were never seen again.
The jump had cost Aernouts, however, and the lead trio quickly made it clear that they did not want another member in the band. As Albert took over the lead and again pushed the pace, the Sunweb-Revor rider could not hang onto his teammate’s wheel, and slipped off the lead. It was a momentary and welcome change to the well-read script, but ending would still be the same. With two to go, it was once again down to Pauwels, Albert and Nys.
It Only Takes Two to Tango
And, per the script, it was the sand that Nys used to put his compatriots on the defense. Nys took the lead and powered through the first deep sand, Pauwels struggling to keep his wheel and Albert failing to do so himself. A few turns later, Pauwels took over the lead, and the trio was now a duet. By the time they hit the stairs, the World Champion was seven seconds off the pace.
And so the strategies began: Nys, stronger in the sand and the sprint, had more cards to play, but Pauwels clearly smelled the possibility of his first win since World Cup Tabor, and rode powerfully at the front, hoping to shed the Belgian champion. Even when Nys took to the front on the last lap, leading into the sand, he could not shake Pauwels – his first card was neutralized. The two hit the stairs together, with Albert making up lost time behind them.
Nys still had another card to play, however, and he led into the pavement at full speed, ready to take the win with a sprint. Nys ratcheted up the gears and threw down his power … and slipped out of his pedal. Pauwels was already winding up his own sprint, and quickly came around Nys. The Sunweb-Revor rider had time to raise his hands in victory as Nys could only bang his hands in frustration, his second card neutralized as well. Pauwel’s luck, it seems, has finally turned.
2012 Soudal Classic - Elite Men
|13||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||58:11:00|
|21||Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN||NED||59:19:00|
|22||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||59:27:00|
|25||Dave DE CLEYN||BEL||1:00:07|
|27||Sean DE BIE||BEL||1:00:43|
|32||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||1:02:14|