Ronse, Belgium – On a day when a classic mix of Belgian weather – sun, rain and even hail – turned an already muddy race into a super sloppy comedy of errors, Sven Nys used his superior technical abilities to claim his second victory in a week, taking the Nissan Super Trophy in Ronse, Belgium. The race, which honored Belgian great Mario De Clercq, was a smaller national race that attracted some of Belgium’s top talent while many regulars on the European scene took the weekend off to focus on races closer to home or training in slightly nicer conditions. Notable absences included World Champion Zdenek Stybar, who headed to Mallorca with a number of teammates; Christian Heule, who won a race at home in Switzerland; and American Jonathan Page.
Nonetheless, the hardy few who did turn out delivered quite a show on a course that might have looked more familiar to Swiss fans than Belgians, with its slick mud and difficult climbs. The early race saw a number of lead changes, as Niels Albert took the front before a bobble on a steep climb allowed Klaas Vantornout to surge past. Vantornout led through much of the first laps while behind Nys, Albert and Bart Wellens began to organize a chase. But the leaders came together, joined by Tom Meeusen, during the second lap, and stayed together until a sudden cloudburst and hailstorm turned the already-saturated course into soup.
At mid-race it was Nys who blew things open, crashing on a slick descent and taking Vantornout with him, allowing Albert and Wellens to go clear. Wellens, however, couldn’t match the 2009 world champion and lost more time as he made a series of mistakes in the nearly unrideable conditions. Nys, on the other hand, set out after Albert, a combination of good handling and pure grit helping him close the 20-second gap.
When it began to hail, several riders, Vantornout and Wellens included, packed it in, leaving the work of chasing the two leaders to Meeusen and a number of less well known racers including Jan Denuwelaere and Rob Peeters, who would finish fourth and fifth, albeit several minutes down.
Up front, Nys and Albert rode together as they saw three to go before Nys slowly started to pull away. Albert, despite a valiant effort to keep the gap closed just kept losing time, unable to match the man who might be the best bike handler in the world. By the time an obviously cracked Albert hit the last lap, mistakes had cost him any chance of the win, though second place seemed assured, with no challenger anywhere nearby.
In the final lap, Albert slid sideways off his bike on the slick descent that caused Nys trouble earlier in the race. Sliding headfirst down the slippery hill, his bike tumbling behind, there was little Albert could do except wait for the bottom, and the slapstick routine continued when he finally rose to his feet. Fans, who attempted to help him to his bike, ended up sending the bike rolling, riderless, to the other side of the course, while a helpless Albert simply watched it go.
The bobble sealed Albert’s fate, allowing a mud-covered Nys to pedal to the win, much to the delight of the assembled fans. Albert would hold on for second with Meeusen in third.
“This was a good day,” Nys told reporters afterward, but it almost didn’t count. I missed my start and then it started to rain really hard. I wasn’t there to oversee the tires, and the front wheel was a little too hard. So I lost control over my bike and slid out. But I just stayed calm and got another bike.”
Nys, who told reporters the conditions suited him once everything was dialed in, appeared to be happy to have his season back on track after struggling in warmer, dryer weather earlier this year.
Albert, for his part, said he was disappointed, but it was hard to match the Belgian champion on such a day. “It was really cold,” he said afterwards. “I’m disappointed, because if you get such a gift as the lead I had, you want to follow through. Normally I don’t want to hand it over, but Sven is so good on this kind of course. It seems like right now I only have good days in training, and not yet in the races. Just wait, right?”