Ruddervoorde, Belgium – World champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) is the man of the moment. After winning the opening race of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trofee in Namur last week, he was also the best in the opening race of the Superprestige series in Ruddervoorde. In sunny weather conditions, Stybar won after shedding Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant Offroad) in the final lap. Belgian Champion Sven Nys reached the podium after coming back from a mechanical in the first part of the race. France’s Steve Chainel (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) was fourth and Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) rounded out the top five.
Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), racing for the first time in this young season after back-to-back bouts of illness and injury, took the holeshot, followed right behind by Zdenek Stybar, Bart Aernouts, Sven Nys and the rest of the pack. But the former world champion misjudged an early turn, losing ground to his nearest competitors and triggering a chain reaction pileup behind that delayed a number of riders, including Klaas Vantornout and Phillip Walsleben, both of whom had to fight to bring themselves back into the race from behind.
Albert’s bobble was all Zdenek Stybar needed to take control, joining with the impressive Bart Aernouts. The two quickly created a big gap on Sven Nys, Bart Wellens, Niels Albert, Sven Vanthourenhout, Steve Chainel and a few others, and it became clear the winner of the race was in front. Sven Nys tried to get rid of his companions but broke one of his spokes in his wheel and, by the time he changed bikes, the others had bridged up to the Belgian champion.
Aernouts and Stybar, who are both residents of Essen in northern Belgium and often train together, rode together for much of the race until Aernouts attacked just before a technical stretch of sand. Aernouts, who took one of the day’s few clean trips through the sand while Stybar was forced to run, emerged with a five second gap and the support of a huge crowd who had waited for some real drama for most of the race’s 60 minutes. But the attack was not quite enough, and Stybar reconnected with Aernouts on the next lap. When the Belgian rider bobbled the descent from the next-to-last set of stairs, Stybar immediately took advantage, hitting the gas and stretching a 10-meter lead that Aernouts couldn’t close.
After the race, Aernouts told Cyclocross Magazine that he was happy with the race’s outcome, despite falling short of the podium’s top step. “I was thinking during the race about what I had to do to beat [Stybar],” he said, “and I was thinking that the only chance was to do a surprise, since in the last lap he is so strong. So I tried it the second-to-last lap; it was a good effort, I put some pressure on him, but he came back. It wasn’t enough – he was the strongest, but I’m happy that I was not so far behind.”
Aernouts, whose early season results have been the best of his career, said he’s hopeful he can carry some momentum deep into the year. “It is a great start, I hope I can make it until the end of the season. I believe I can because in past years I’ve been able to do a very steady season. So I’m hopeful that I can do it this year also, but the start is fantastic. Now I have three podium places, so I’m really happy with that.”
Stybar, known among racers perhaps most of all for his easygoing attitude, told reporters that he had just been happy to show off his rainbow jersey today. “I am just enjoying,” he said. “You know, it’s beautiful, and I don’t know if next year I can ride again in [the rainbow jersey]. Maybe it’s the first and last year I can ride in this jersey. And it’s sunny, so it’s nice white, it’s not dirty, so there’s not much washing to do this evening, so why not enjoy it?”
The world champion also told reporters that, as happy as he was to win, he was also happy to see Aernouts’ strides forward this season. “Last year he was always fourth, fifth or sixth, and he was never on the podium. Now he did it, and he almost won the race,” said Stybar. “I didn’t want to try attacking like three laps from the end, because I was happy that Bart was riding for the win and I was thinking he’s my friend and I didn’t want to ride away from him and take his big chance to be on the podium.”
Deeper in the field, Niels Albert said he was satisfied with his season’s first efforts. “Seventh place was the best I could do today,” he told Cyclocross Magazine afterwards. “I did my best, but the last lap I was totally lost. I’m just happy that I’m back, and for the moment I’m just working on getting higher. And we’ll see when this happens.”
Albert said that, for the moment, he was taking things step-by-step. “I didn’t train for 14 days, and now I trained only from Friday of last week, so I have 10 days of training. And now I finished seventh, so I think I have to be happy. My knee is a little bit better, for the moment [it's doing] very well. We’ll see tomorrow, but I think there’s no problem any more. Not it’s just getting into better condition, and we will see.”
American Jonathan Page rode a gutsy race, climbing from deep in the field during the first lap to contend for ninth place for much of the race. Page worked his way to the front of a large group of riders who, he said, weren’t willing to contribute to pace setting on the fast, mostly flat track. “I caught Klaas Vantornout and Dieter Vanthourenhout, and they just sat up,” he told Cyclocross Magazine after the finish. “So I attacked them here, and of course they came with me and had energy for the end of the race. I gave it my shot, but it was one lap too much.”
Page finished 15th, a disappointing result that didn’t reflect the American’s doggedness or his efforts to motivate the race. “I’d rather try than not,” he said. “I did what I could today. Unfortunately results count, but how I rode today was better than them. I was pissed off today, that was my goal today. I wanted more, I wanted to be there at the beginning, but there was a crash in the first corner. I had to put my foot down and so I was one step behind. But I tried to keep that throughout the race, just going forward. I don’t want to talk about luck, but a little luck at the start and I’m there.”
Belgian U23 Champion Jim Aernouts (BKCP-Powerplus) has won the U23 race for the Superprestige in Ruddervoorde, his first big win of the season. Aernouts took a solo win after an exciting race with a slight advantage over compatriot Vincent Baestaens (Telenet-Fidea) and U23 World Champion, and last week’s winner in Namur, Arnaud Jouffroy (BKCP-Powerplus).
Last year’s winner Micki van Empel (Telenet-Fidea) took the hole shot followed by Aernouts, Jouffroy, Baestaens, Van der Haar, Joeri Adams and the others. With constantly changing positions, lots of riders had a chance to win the race. In the final laps, a group of five riders finally broke clear: Aernouts, Jouffroy, Joeri Adams, Lars van der Haar and Baestaens.
Aernouts created a small lead in the final lap on his rivals to win his first race of the season. Baestaens won the sprint for second followed by Jouffroy, Van der Haar and Adams.
The youth races were won by Laurens Sweeck (Juniors) and Mathieu van der Poel (Beginners).