Kevin Pauwels' tenacity saw him take the win ahead of Stybar and Nysm©Bart Hazen
In an exciting finale between the top three racers in the World Cup standings, what should have been a three-way sprint between Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) dropped to two when a well-positioned Nys slid out on the final corner. Stybar, who had been attacking hard in the final lap to distance his rivals, led the charge to the line. The svelte Pauwels, however, kept in Stybar’s slipstream until the last possible moment, launching around the World Champion and taking the win by barely a bike length. Crossing the line, Stybar, who seemed to have had Nys and Pauwels on the ropes, slammed his hand on his bars in disappointment. Nys rolled across the line a few seconds behind.
The racers lined up at Zolder on a chilly, wet and slippery Boxing Day. Klaas Vantournout took the holeshot on the muddy course, which saw Lars Boom taking the win last year. Vantournout was followed by teammate Pauwels, but Nys, aware of how close the World Cup standings are, took a risky dive for the inside corner and split the two riders up. He would stay glued to Pauwels for the remainder of the race. At the end of the first lap, it was Nys leading Pauwels, followed by Boom and a long string of riders. World Champion Zdenek Stybar launched himself across the line and instantly gained a considerable gap. The move was cut short, however, when he slid out on a muddy 180, allowing the chase to catch up to him.
Nys then took control of the race, pushing hard and immediately creating the separation that would remain for the remainder of the race. Pauwels was able to claw back to Nys’ wheel, but a bobble by Lars Boom gave the two leaders a gap. Stybar was not to be left out, however, as he took over the chase, Boom and Bart Wellens trying to stay on his wheel. Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), whose spectacular effort at SuperPrestige Diegem last week saw him with the win, didn’t seem to have the legs today, and was unable to respond to the accelerations of Stybar’s chase.
Stybar’s effort paid off, and a final push by Boom brought the lead group to five riders: Nys, Pauwels, Boom, Wellens and Stybar. Behind them, Albert drove a chase group, but would never reconnect with the leaders. At the front, Wellens was the first to crack, slipping back with six laps to go as Pauwels took over the charge at the front. A bobble by Nys gave Pauwels a gap that he did his best to take advantage of, and the subsequent chase by Nys, who unleashed an incredible burst of energy to re-connect with his rival, popped Boom from the leader’s group.
With four laps to go, the race was down to the three World Cup leaders, Nys in the white leader’s jersey, Stybar in the white World Champion jersey, and Kevin Pauwels in the red and white of Sunweb-Revor. Behind the trio, a large chase group led by Niels Albert, Lars Boom, and Klaas Vantornout struggled to regain contact with the leaders. They never would.
The slippery course gave each of the leaders trouble, particularly on the long off-camber, which Stybar managed best each lap but saw all the riders dismounting by the final lap. Over the next few laps, the three changed leads, attacked, and clawed back on, each failing to gain more than a few bike lengths on the others. Of the three, Stybar looked the most visibly exhausted, and with three laps to go looked ready to crack after Nys launched himself up the run-up. The World Champion shook his head, however, and found the reserves to get back onto Pauwels’ wheel, rest for a moment, and then launched an attack of his own.
Indeed, from then on it seemed to be Stybar’s race, as he led through the corners, slowing down to force Pauwels and Nys to brake and then accelerating hard out of the turns, at one point gaining nearly four bike lengths and leaving Pauwels dangling dangerously off the back. With half a lap to go, Stybar was still punching aggressively, doing his best to shake off the other two.
As the riders neared the final corner, however, the odds of victory swung into Nys’ favor, as the Belgian, who has proven his sprint again and again, sat third wheel. Nys, knowing his record of out-sprinting Pauwels and aware that Stybar had burned a lot of matches trying to escape, must have felt confident for the win. However, as the camera trained its eye down the finishing corridor, Stybar shot around the tight corner, followed closely by Pauwels, and then a shocked Sven Nys sliding on his side, watching the other two riders sprint for victory.
Stybar threw everything he had left at the line, and for a moment it seemed that it would be enough, but Pauwels slid out of the slipstream and kicked hard, snatching the win from Stybar, who could only smack his handlebars in disappointment.
Pauwels’ win over Nys gave him enough points to take back the overall World Cup lead, and now has ten points over the Belgian. Stybar remains at third in the overall standings.
U23 Race – American Zach McDonald takes 3rd
In the U23 race, American Zach McDonald took his best World Cup placement, crossing the line, with a wheelie, in third place. McDonald came in behind Belgian Wietse Bosmans and Tim Merlier.
It’s a fantastic finish for McDonald, who is in Europe as part of the Euro Cross Camp, run by Geoff Proctor. Another worthy ride was Logan Owen and Andrew Dillman, who took fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Junior race.
Photo Gallery by Bart Hazen:
2011 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Zolder Elite Men Results
|15||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||1:05:05|
|18||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||1:05:08|
|26||Twan VAN DEN BRAND||NED||1:05:49|
2011 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Zolder U23 Results
|7||David VAN DER POEL||NED||52:12:00|
|10||Bart DE VOCHT||BEL||52:58:00|
|21||Felix COT BOUVETTE||CAN||56:32:00|
|23||John DE SCHUTTER||BEL||57:44:00|
2011 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Zolder Junior Results
|1||Mathieu VAN DER POEL||NED||43:57:00|
|17||Jelle VAN DEN DRIES||BEL||48:02:00|
|18||Richard Cypress GORRY||USA||48:42:00|