by Chris Bagg, with help from Christine Vardaros
TABOR, CZECH REPUBLIC—Just as they did in the women’s race, the moments on this Tabor course that forced the riders off their bikes made the decisive gaps. A greasy, off-camber corner let opportunistic riders break away from the packs, and the giant stairs that preceded a steep hill broke the field. Bart Wellens took the holeshot, and after two laps of the field watching each other, Kevin Pauwels (BKCP-Powerplus) attacked a large group containing all the pre-race favorites: Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Bart Aernouts (Rabobank), Francis Mourey (FDJ), Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea). Stybar went with the young Belgian, but Pauwels got about a five second gap after Stybar changed bikes and couldn’t go back across to the Sunweb rider. Only the tall Belgian, Vantornout, could follow Stybar, and soon those two were chasing alone in front of the larger group, who had picked up Radomir Simunek. Steve Chainel rounded out the top ten as the men went through the start finish with five laps to go.
Niels Albert led that chasing group back to Stybar and Vantornout, but Pauwels at that time had established more than a twenty-second gap. The course was classic Euro: grassy but greasy, with scary drops and race-deciding climbs. Those stairs (the course designers had opted for huge steps instead of the usual low-rise steps) split the field on each lap, but the group of nine watched each other carefully as Pauwels continued to dance away. Pauwels is looking fit and lean this season, and half-way through the race it looked like his effort would hold. Shedding his glasses, the work showed clearly on Pauwels’ face with about three-and-a-half to go. Albert and Stybar kept attacking each other, and Klaas Vantornout answered each charge, defending well for his teammate. As the group came through with three to go, Stybar gestured at the rest of his groupmates, frustration visible on his face. No one wanted to work, however, and they let Vantornout ride on the front for almost a quarter-lap, letting Pauwels get farther up the road. After the stairs, Albert had had enough and attacked up the climb, bringing Stybar with him. The tall Belgian got right back on the World Champion’s wheel, and the group of nine stayed compact.
Radomir Simunek, in an effort to save the race for the home crowd and for teammate Albert, moved past Vantornout to try to animate the group of nine, who looked content to race for second. Stybar and Vantornout follwed Simunek, getting a gap over Albert, Nys, Mourey, Chaniel, Aernouts, and Meeusen, but with two laps to go Pauwels’ lead had grown to 57 seconds. Stybar, freed from the group, soon started to expand the gap, while Vantornout clung gamely on. Simunek, pushed over the edge by his attack, soon began to fade back to the chase group. Stybar brought back ten seconds to Pauwels with one lap to go, but the gap would be just too large. Vantornout, it appeared, was given permission to try to get away from Stybar, because for the first time that day the Sunweb-Revor rider began to work with the World Champion, trying to keep the chasers at bay. Francis Mourey and Sven Nys, no longer content to sit back, tried to get back up to the Belgian/Czech duo. Stybar attacked with several hundred meters to go and got away from the hard-working Vantornout for the second spot on the podium. Pauwels had time to celebrate the win, putting both hands above his visibly tired face.
Jeremy Powers, coming off an amazing 10th place last weekend, finished 15th, only 1:24 down on the winner. Tim Johnson followed his former teammate by two spots, and Jamey Driscoll went down hard in the final corner, losing his chain and having to run his bike the final 200 meters, surrendering several spots.
Jonathan Page: “It was frustrating today. I know I’ve been doing it forever but still I’m not really sure what’s going on. But I know I have some work to do. My tank isn’t full I think. I haven’t done this bad in a long time.”
Jeremy Powers: “It’s small victories. Today was great except for the start. If I could have just been ten places better, I would have been in really good shape to do another top ten. But it was just a fast race and to gain five seconds here is nearly impossible. I was marking myself off the front guys in certain sections and I could see that I was doing the same laps as them but on the best guys in the world I’m not going to take back five-ten seconds in a lap.
The only wheel I was paying attention to was dead in front of me, while slobbering on my top tube with my tongue. When Bart [Wellens] got across to that front group, I just dangled. I’m just missing a very small amount of fitness. But I’m happy and I go home in my head on a high. As long as I keep getting better, I’ll keep coming [over to Europe] and keep doing this. But when I stop getting better I’ll reassess.”
Tim Johnson: “Last week I had a terrible start but with good legs, and today I had a medium start but it took me a half hour to really get going. But once I did, I started to jump up and up. Jeremy was right in front of me and I was just trying to get him at the end.
Before the start some of the Dutch guys were referring to the course as American style. It’s true – when these guys wonder what Louisville [World Championship Course in 2013] is like, it’s like this with the flat corners – not too technical. It has lots of berms like this course too.”
Dieter Vanthourenhout: “My start was not so good so I ended up in the chase group, thus my race was really not quite so good. It was not my best result.”
Tom Meeusen: “It was a really heavy race with many riders together in a group. There were a lot of altitude meters so it was very hard for me. I suffered the whole race so I am again happy with sixth place.”
Photo Gallery – Thomas Van Bracht:
Photo Gallery – Gregg Germer:
|18||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||37||1:04:58|
|21||Egoitz MURGOITIO REKALDE||ESP||29||1:05:09|
|24||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||26||1:05:22|
|25||Twan VAN DEN BRAND||NED||23||1:05:22|
|1||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED||21||50:44:00|
|6||David VAN DER POEL||NED||20||51:35:00|
|17||Micki VAN EMPEL||NED||22||52:17:00|