Niels Albert (BKCP-Power Plus), who said two weeks ago that he wanted to win the Belgian Championships more than even the World title, made his wish a reality today on a flat, sandy course under sunny skies in Antwerp. The 2009 World Champion pulled away from Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) during the second lap to take a huge solo victory after years of near misses at National Championships.
Albert, pedaling with his quick, bobbing cadence, easily distanced himself from a chase group that included Kevin Pauwels, Bart Wellens and Bart Aernouts – after the early laps of the race, it became clear that they were clearly racing for the final two steps on the podium. Wellens, who finished the race with a neat little bow to the crowd on the line, took second ahead of Pauwels. A disappointed Aernouts had to settle for fourth place.
Wellens, who questioned whether he would even start the race early in the week after injuring both knees in a crash in last Sunday’s race in Tervuren, looked thrilled with second place, his first appearance on the Belgian Championship podium since 2008. It marks Wellens’ seventh Nationals medal overall, including his two wins.
Meanwhile, perennial Belgian Champion Sven Nys, who looked strong in the race’s first lap, encountered trouble during the second, falling rapidly from contention for even the lower steps on the podium. Nys, who looked uncomfortable all day, would abandon the race with one lap to go.
Tom Meeusen, who took the bronze medal in last year’s championship, was another pre-race favorite who would not be a factor. Although the young Telenet-Fidea rider held a good position in the first couple of laps, he gradually faded back as the effects of the flu he’s been battling with all week took hold.
The track in Antwerp, known for the difficulty of its sand sections along the Schelde river, was atypically fast following heavy rains that left the sand tightly-packed in many places. Though it featured its share of running as well, with several unrideable sections and a set of stairs, speed was the name of the game today, as Albert cruised around the course alone.
“All week I just had super legs,” said the newly crowned champion at the finish. “I really was counting down to today; I knew I was going to be very tense. Yet I didn’t expect this. For me the season is a success now. I’m the Belgian champion and the overall World Cup title is nearly locked up too.”
“I’d really like to ride the next year in the national flag, so maybe I should let a compatriot win in Sankt-Wendel,” joked Albert.
Wellens thought that when Aernouts and Pauwels joined him, they had a chance of bringing back the flying Albert. “If we had all three fully joined forces, it would still have been possible,” Wellens said on his team website. “I asked three, four times for them to work, but neither Kevin nor Bart [would]. Pity, because at times I felt very strong, but I could not maintain [Albert’s pace].”
Stijn Huys took the Belgian Elite without contract title, finishing first in the race that started just on the heels of the professional race.
Cant Repeats As Elite Women’s Champion
Earlier in the day defending champion and overwhelming favorite Sanne Cant reclaimed her title in convincing fashion, beating runner-up Nancy Bober by a huge margin – nearly two minutes – and third place finisher and former champion Joyce Vanerbeken by nearly three minutes.
“Before the race I felt a little bit of stress,” said the 20 year-old Cant afterwards. “You’re never sure of the title. But then I first attacked in the sand and instantly had a gap. Then I just rode at my own tempo for the rest. But it was hard for me still. Because of all the running, I nearly had cramps by the last lap.”
Check back for additional reactions and more, coming soon.
Men’s Photo Gallery:
Women’s Photo Gallery:
|7||Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLE||BEL||23||1:01:37||15||15|
|12||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||26||1:05:46|
|4||Ellen VAN LOY||BEL||31||41:25||30||30|
|6||Nicole DE BIE – LEYTEN||BEL||36||41:42||20||20|
|14||Katrien VAN LOOY||BEL||22||45:43|