By Dan Seaton
Plzen, Czech Republic – Niels Albert has done it again. Although the conditions were dramatically different from the first World Cup race in Treviso, with temperatures hovering around 5°C (40°F) and intermittent rain making the course slick, the World Champion once again rode clear of the field to take a dominating victory in Plzen.
The race began oddly, with two false starts, both apparently instigated by Belgian rider Klaas Vantornout, but the riders settled down and finally managed a clean start. From the gun, it was clear that the Czech riders wanted to bring home a victory for the local fans, with Martin Bina grabbing the hole shot before Zdeněk Štybar attacked on the crossover bridge in the middle of the course. With Bina appearing to briefly hold up traffic for his countryman, Štybar easily got the jump on a chase group of four including Bina, Vantornout, Kevin Pauwels, and American Jonathan Page, with French rider Francis Mourey joining the chase moments later.
By the end of the first lap, Štybar—Štyby to the locals—led his pursuers by more than 10 seconds, clearly pouring everything he had into stretching his lead. Meanwhile, Albert and Sven Nys were moving up through traffic towards the head of the chase. While Albert simply didn’t start well, Nys was forced to ride back from a third row start: the result of his failure to finish the last round of the World Cup in Treviso. With the kings of cross still moving forward, the chase remained disorganized, allowing Štybar to stretch his lead to nearly 15 seconds by the end of the second lap.
Finally, just as a sudden rain shower turned the tacky course to slick mud, a group of four emerged at the front of the chase: Albert, Vantornout, Pauwels, and Mourey. Albert surged and fractured the chase, which had at one point grown to 15 people. With Albert now in command, Štybar’s lead was quickly cut in half by the end of the third lap. Moments later a second duo of chasers—Page and Nys—joined the pursuit and the race was on.
Midway through the fourth lap, Nys and Albert finally managed to bridge up to Štybar, the top three at Worlds then riding a tactical race together a few seconds ahead of the rest of the race for the remainder of the lap. At the end of the lap, Albert finally revealed his game plan, launching a searing attack up the short finishing climb, but it didn’t quite stick and the race came back together for another round. With five laps complete, however, Albert went again, this time getting the gap he wanted, leaving Nys, Pauwels, and Štybar behind.
While Albert once again pedaled away with his bobbing style, looking completely collected, the three chasers traded duty at the front and occasional bobbles in the tricky conditions. At the end of 6 laps, Albert held a 10 second lead; then 13 seconds after 7 laps, then gradually more and more. Štybar and Nys both took turns off the front of the chase, but nothing worked, and the group remained together, with Mourey occasionally dangling just off the back.
For a few minutes Nys separated himself from the rest, even gaining a bit on Albert, but he bobbled on a steep-two tiered climb and had to dismount and run, allowing Pauwels and Štybar to regain his wheel. Meanwhile, Albert had stretched his lead to 30 seconds, looking once again like the rider who shredded the competition throughout the season before Nys snapped his streak in Ruddervoorde last Sunday. Albert was helped by a fragmented chase, with Nys and Štybar alternating between attacking each other and motioning for the other to pull through.
Although a series of hard efforts on the final lap appeared to bring the group of three closer to the leader, it was too little too late. Albert rounded the final corner before the short finishing stretch alone, brushed off his jersey, and threw his hands up in victory, rolling comfortably across the line for a 19 second victory. Behind him, Nys launched one final sprint, immediately after turning the last corner to take second, with Stybar finishing just seconds behind. Pauwels, who rode strongly in the chase all day, crossed the line fourth, with Mourey alone in fifth.
For his part, Jonathan Page rode his strongest race since returning to Europe, mixing it up among the leaders early before fading slightly to cross the line in 13th, just behind Erwin Vervecken. It was Page’s third 13th in Europe this season.
After the race, Albert said that the conditions suited him perfectly. “The track today, with the rain and the mud, is what I like, and for me it’s the best condition to ride in. The ground was very slippery with lots of mud, but it was still fast—just really, really slippery.”
Nys told reporters that he simply didn’t have the gas to close the gap to Albert, especially coming back from his poor starting position. “I felt I had too little to close the gap to Albert, so I decided to stay in the chase group,” he said. “This course was also something for Niels, he was just a little bit better than me.”
Cyclocross returns to Belgium next weekend for the second round of the GVA Trofee, the famously difficult Koppenbergcross on October 25.
Complete Results (58 Starters)
1. Niels Albert (BEL) 1:05:13
2. Sven Nys (BEL) +00:19
3. Zdeněk Štybar (CZE) +00:21
4. Kevin Pauwels (BEL) +00:24
5. Francis Mourey (FRA) +00:38
6. Klaas Vantornout (BEL) +00:56
7. Radomir Sinunek (CZE) +01:03
8. Christian Heule (SUI) +01:06
9. Enrico Franzoi (ITA) +01:10
10. Gerben De Knegt (NED) +01:17
11. Bart Aernouts (BEL) +01:26
12. Erwin Vervecken (BEL) +01:33
13. Jonathan Page (USA) +01:37
14. Petr Dlask (CZE) +02:03
15. Jan Verstraeten (BEL) +02:06
16. Robert Gavenda (SVK) +02:09
17. Thijs Van Amerongen (NED) +02:43
18. Martin Zlamlik (CZE) +03:03
19. Marco Bianco (ITA) +03:12
20. Thijs Al (NED) +03:15
21. Laurent Colombatto (FRA) +03:16
22. Dieter Vanthourenhout (BEL) +03:21
23. Eddy Van Ijzendoorn (NED) +03:24
24. Martin Bina (CZE) +03:27
25. Mariusz Gil (POL) +03:31
26. Ondrej Bambula (CZE) +03:38
27. Rob Peeters (BEL) +03:45
28. Ian Field (GBR) +03:46
29. Kamil Ausbuher (CZE) +03:52
30. Wilant Van Gils (NED) +04:01
31. Marcel Wildhaber (SUI) +04:10
32. David Derepas (FRA) +04:14
33. Patrick Van Leeuwen (NED) +04:20
34. Pawel Szczepaniak (POL) +04:48
35. Alessandro Gambino (ITA) +05:02
36. Johannes Sickmueller (GER) +05:22
37. Jérome Chavallier (FRA) +05:34
38. Zdenek Mlynar (CZE) +06:10
39. Roy Van Heeswijk (NED) -1 Lap
40. Vaclav Metlick (SVK) -1 Lap
41. Milan Barenyi (SVK) -1 Lap
42. Christoph Pfingsten (GER) -1 Lap
43. Ivar Hartogs (NED) -2 Lap
44. Fabio Ursi (ITA) -3 Lap
45. Sascha Wagner (GER) -3 Lap
46. Martin Haring (SVK) -4 Lap
47. Robert Glajza (SVK) -4 Lap
48. Marek Canecky (SVK) -5 Lap
49. Zoltan Tisza (HUN) -6 Lap