HOOGERHEIDE, NETHERLANDS—Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) won a tactical affair here in Hoogerheide today, retaining his World Cup skinsuit in taking the series finale. Riders covered the fast course eight times, with the lead group swelling at times to more than ten riders. Pauwels, as series leader, finally seized the race, attacking late and opening a gap over last week’s World Cup winner Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep). Until that point, however, the race was truly anyone’s for the taking.
Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), going through (for him) a bare patch of results after reclaiming the Belgian national championship, took the holeshot as the wind began to howl in Hoogerheide. Still, the men were able to make it off the opening straight without incident, a relief after an early crash in the women’s race saw Caroline Mani and Sophie de Boer leave in an ambulance. Early in the race a lead group of more than twenty formed with almost all the favorites present: Pauwels, Stybar, Nys, Niel Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea). Only Bart Aernouts (Rabobank) didn’t make it to the front, victim to some early trouble. Early-race regular Francis Mourey (FdJ), hard to spot now that he’s no longer wearing the tri-color of French champion, also made the early group, along with rising Swiss star Marcel Wildhaber (Scott-Swisspower MTB).
The long mud sections began to break up the huge leading group, as front riders were free to power forward and riders at the back were forced to dismount. Niels Albert attacked through the pits for the first time, shaving the race down to a lead group of true contenders: Nys, Pauwels, Vantornout, Meeusen, Stybar, and Mourey—practically the entire Belgian world championships team plus the French and Czech riders. With such star power abounding, no further attacks were made for a while, allowing the group to consolidate and welcome chasers Radomir Simunek Jr. (BKCP-Powerplus) and Sven Vanthourenhout (Landbouwkrediet). Perhaps hearing that Steve Chainel (FdJ) and Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) were also on the way forward, Klaas Vantornout and Tom Meeusen took turns attacking, the result being a group of five leading with four laps to go: Vantornout, Meeusen, Stybar, Pauwels, and Albert. Nys dropped back to a chasing group of Peeters and Vanthourenhout and never regained the front group.
As time grew short, Kevin Pauwels stepped into the role of series leader and attacked, dropping all but world champion Stybar and faithful teammate Vantornout. Pauwels rode with a gap of three seconds for almost two laps, while Vantornout gave Stybar fits by passing the Czech rider and riding false tempos. Niels Albert began to claw back to the front group with less than two to go, and Vantornout had to work again to keep his dangerous countryman at bay. At the bell it was Pauwels with a small gap over Stybar and Vantornout; Albert alone; then Peeters, Nys, and Meeusen wondering what to do about twenty seconds in arrears. Stybar tried valiantly to get across to Pauwels in the last half-a-lap, but the Sunweb-Revor tactics had worked to perfection, as Pauwels lengthened his lead going into the finish. Pauwels wins the World Cup overall for the first time, and goes into next week’s World Championships as the man to beat. Stybar was second, Vantornout third, Albert fourth, and Peeters fifth. Nys barely missed the top five, coming home in 6th in front of Meeusen, Vanthourenhout, Simunek Jr., and Mourey.
Jeremy Powers managed the best American result today in 29th. Soon after the race he posted the following on his facebook page: “We’re gonna file today under “DAYS TO FORGET.” Not an awesome result & I wanted better but…some days you got that swag. some days you don’t.”
Jonathan Page, a few spots behind Powers, also had a day to forget, saying via his Facebook page “OK, so I can’t believe this, but MORE bad luck. Yesterday: broken derailleur and hanger in the first k. Today: PERFECT start! Top 3 going into the field from 3rd row start only to once again find myself with someone elses bars underneath mine. Nowhere to go. Nothing I could have done. Learned NOTHING. Several more injuries including a broken hand. But, I am going to have the RIDE OF MY LIFE next weekend. Never give up.”