by Dan Seaton
Hamme, Belgium – Buoyed by his first trip to the top step of the podium yesterday in Hasselt, Zdeněk Štybar once again grabbed victory at the finish line today in Hamme-Zogge. On an uncharacteristically warm and sunny day for November in Belgium, the blustery winds that raked the open fields of the course would play the decisive role today. The course, snaking and contorted on a broad expanse of fields just outside the village of Hamme, was highly exposed to the strong wind, and throughout the day riders sought shelter in a series of large groups that dominated the dynamics of the race. Despite a course that was nearly the polar opposite of last Sunday’s Superprestige race in Gavere, the early part of the race developed similarly, with Klaas Vantornout grabbing the early lead, stringing out a large group that included Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels, and Jonathan Page. Sven Nys, who finished sixth yesterday after a rolled tire cost him the better part of a minute, missed the early selection and was forced to chase from relatively deep in the bunch. By the end of the first lap, Nys had moved himself to fifth, riding a wave of cheering that proved that, whatever his struggles, he remains the Belgian fan favorite. During the middle of the second lap, World Champion Niels Albert made what has become his trademark move this season, pushing the pace and stretching a lead over the rest of the field that only Vantornout could cover. But the magic that has allowed Albert to simply ride away from the rest of the field has faded recently, and after a hard effort in the wind, Albert was looking for help from his companion in the breakaway. The two were reeled in after about a lap, setting up a series of attacks, none of which stuck. But the increased pressure at the front broke up the race and a group of six—Albert, Vantornout, Nys, Štybar, Kevin Pauwels, and Gerben de Knegt—went clear of the rest of the field. The wind kept the leaders in check, and they repeatedly gestured and spoke to one another to share the work. Behind them, Italian national champion Enrico Franzoi put in a hard effort to lead a second group back into the race, connecting with seven laps to go to create a large and chaotic battle between about ten riders up front. Meanwhile, Erwin Vervecken had come to the front of a third group of riders that briefly included Page, who seemed to be going backwards all day. Vervecken’s efforts brought his chase group within striking distance of the leaders, but shook Page loose, leaving him to ride on his own between two large groups for much of the race.
With five laps to go, both Štybar and Bart Aernouts simultaneously bobbled on a short and steep climb, breaking the large lead group into two, giving Albert, Vantornout, and Nys a small gap over the rest of the field. Though Štybar quickly bridged to the leaders, the rest of the field couldn’t match the pace at the front, and the quartet stretched their lead to 15 seconds by three laps to go. The slowdown in the newly formed second group was, however, enough to let the Vervecken group finally close the gap, and the two chase groups merged and then split again into a series of amorphous, continuously changing packs. Vervecken, however, kept up the charge, keeping the pressure on the leaders and pulling a sizable bunch along with him. But the critical selection was made, and nobody would connect with the lead group of Štybar, Nys, Albert, and Vantornout again. For the next two laps, each would make an effort to gain a gap, but nothing worked, and they came into the last lap all together. Just after Štybar punched the pace again, Albert bobbled on the same short, steep climb that had caused trouble earlier, and lost contact with the three other leaders. Realizing his serious mistake, he began a furious chase, but the trio in front sensed an opportunity and floored it to keep him away.
Next Nys made a move on the enormous flyover that dominated the middle of the course, but couldn’t shake the other two loose and the three hit the long, straight section of road to the finish together. Vantornout, perhaps looking to surprise the other two, went first, but in the strong wind it was too much too early, and Nys came around with Štybar in tow. But Nys, too, was premature in his efforts, and Štybar capitalized, coming around the Belgian champion about ten meters before the two hit the line. Štybar looked exultant in victory, throwing both hands in the air and shouting emphatically in celebration. Vantornout, clearly disappointed by the missed opportunity, rolled across the line in third, while Albert, who had obviously given up any hope of reaching the podium, crossed some 40 seconds back in fourth place. Albert’s letup at the end of the race almost cost him more, as he only held off the charging Vervecken group behind him by a few seconds. Vervecken, who had buried himself for the opportunity to sprint for fifth may have burned just one match too many. He was edged out by Sven Vanthourenhout, who returned to good form after a few weeks off to recover from overtraining. American Jonathan Page crossed the line in 19th. After the race, Nys told Cyclocross Magazine that despite his bad luck in Hasselt yesterday, he felt strong coming into the race today. “It’s the same feeling,” he said, referring to his preparation for any race. “I think I have a good condition, and I know I could win that race [yesterday]. Only luck, that’s something that you can’t do anything about. You must just hope that everything works well. But my shape is really good and I think for the next weeks I’ll try with the feeling that I have now to win a few races.” Nys said that he thought he did everything he could have done to win the race today, and was satisfied with his effort. “Today it was a good race for me,” he told us. “Everything worked perfect, only in the sprint, with the wind, I think I started a little bit to early to close the gap with Klaas Vantornout. And then I lost it in the sprint because Štybar is very strong.” Štybar, for his part, was thrilled with his second win of both the week and the season. “Each weekend I do better and better,” he told Cyclocross Magazine, “and of course if I win one race it’s extra motivation and and extra confidence.” He also said that his recent week of training in Majorca helped him with his recent improvement in form. “I trained there with Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout, and [the break] gives you extra freshness for your head and for your legs. If you are home, you always think about other things, but there you leave your phone in your room and just go walk or ride.” Štybar also attributed his fantastic weekend to a change in his attitude about racing. “Yesterday I went to the race and said, I’m not going to put stress on myself because I want to win. Because before Asper, before Nommay, before Hoogstraten I was putting too much stress on myself to be focused on winning. And it’s like if you are focused at home, if you want to repair something really good for your wife, you will never do it that good because you’re too focused on it. And it was with that strategy I went into this weekend: ‘I wiill not be stressed about winning, I will just be focused on doing a good race.’ And it happened, I won two times.” Mindi Wisman contributed to this report. Photo Gallery:
|12||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||35||1:03:48||6||6|
|15||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||24||1:04:59||1||1|
|17||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||25||1:04:59|
|18||Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN||NED||25||1:04:59|
|22||Wilant VAN GILS||NED||31||1:04:59|
|27||Tim VAN NUFFEL||BEL||29||1:06:56|
|31||Jan VAN DAEL||BEL||23||1:07:16|
|32||Tom DE KORT||BEL||36||1:07:36|