ST WENDEL, GERMANY – In a final nod to Telenet-Fidea before he transitions to Quick Step, Zdenek Stybar stomped his way into his second World Championship jersey in as many years. With four laps to go, the Czech rider distanced himself from Belgian Sven Nys after the two riders – both of whom had won a World Championship on this course before – had established an insurmountable lead over the rest of the race.
“This race is very difficult to win,” said Stybar. “They always say that the most difficult race is the first [World Championship], and the second one is easier. I was injured during the season, so I skipped a World Cup, putting everything on the line for this race. I got the big result, so I got it all back. I knew it would be a tactical race from the beginning, and everyone would look at one another. I was alone with four or five Belgian guys, and was worried that they’d play games. So I tried one attack, and that one attack was enough.”
On the American front, Jonathan Page had an incredible first few laps, moving up quickly from the fourth row to the first group by the end of lap one. The American, who led on this Worlds course before, rode second wheel at times, and remained with the leaders for three laps before a flat dropped him way back. He spent the rest of the race picking off riders, and clawed his way into 12th place to take top US honors.
Tim Johnson was riding well in the top 20 before contact with another rider on the running track, just before the finish line, crashed him out, exploding his front wheel. Johnson’s teammate Jeremy Powers looked strong off the line, nearly landing the holeshot off the track. With a fast start and then attempting to find a rhythm, he raced exactly as he had planned, minus a flat tire and a crash, coming in 16th. Jamey Driscoll also rode a steady, consistent race and finished 27th.
“I’m blown right now,” Powers told Cyclocross Magazine. “Feeling dizzy, but feeling good. One flat, one crash, but sixteenth is something I can be really happy with. I am still real happy with what I did. It’s a good place to build from. I’m proud of my season and really psyched to pull off a good ride today.”
The course changed dramatically over the weekend, as the temperatures warmed for the Elite men’s race, leaving the ground tacky but fast. Belgian national team director Rudy de Bie predicted that a fast or frozen course would not suit his riders well, and although they were able to claim two spots on the podium, there would be no Belgian on top.
Speedy Parcours Bring Dynamic Tactics to the Race
Right from the start the speeds were high enough that drafting was a factor, and riders were therefore bunched up for the first two laps. Stybar took the hole shot, but the Belgians soon swarmed the front, with six of the top seven riders showing the black, yellow and red tricolor. Powers had a fantastic start, taking advantage of his second row position and explosive start. He shot off the line behind Stybar, and held a top-five position briefly. Because of the combination of the racer’s speed and prowess and the drying course conditions, the off-camber ride-/run-up was much less dangerous and decisive that it had been in this weekend’s previous races.
As Powers faded backwards, his compatriot Page picked up the slack, sprinted hard as they completed lap one, and moved right through the lead group as they hit the line. By lap number two a group of 12 coalesced at the front, with Stybar joined by Page, Nys, Vantournout, Meesuen, Pauwels and Wellens of Belgium, Steve Chainel and Francis Mourey (France), Page, Phillip Walsleben (Germany) and Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy). Swiss champion Christian Heule, who has spent the early parts of the past several seasons racing in the US, was also in the mix for a top-10 spot.
Johnson held 18th place in a chase group working hard to close the gap to regain the leaders, with Powers slightly farther back in 25th, and Driscoll chasing with a surprising companion. Notably absent from the front of the race was Niels Albert, one of the pre-race favorites, who flatted early on and never regained a lead position. Albert told Cyclocross Magazine before the start that he was ecstatic with his recent Belgian National Championship win – a title that had thus far eluded him – and wasn’t putting pressure on himself for Worlds. Albert rode with Driscoll for several laps, back around 35th place, and would never be a factor.
Meanwhile, Johnson was moving up, just about to reach that chase group, when he crashed on the running track as another rider’s pedal went into his front wheel, shattering it. Johnson was taken to a local hospital, but reported that he only suffered from bruising. “So that didn’t end up the way I’d hoped, or pictured,” Johnson said via twitter. “I was smashed in by someone on the track, which left me without front spokes and boof – down. I was moving up and feeling better before that, had the next group in my sights. Ribs are smashed in and bike is smoked.”
Page looked to be on the verge of a breakthrough result in a season that hasn’t lived up to his expectations, but like Powers, he too would later suffer from a flat, dropping from the top ten to outside of the top 25 before he could get rolling again. He would eventually claw his way all the way back up to 12th place. At the finish line, Page told Cyclocross Magazine that he was happy with his performance.
“I didn’t realize where I was when I came back from the flat,” he said. “But I rode out of my skin today. I had a very great day, a magical day. I had prepared really well, we timed it just right. Somehow I flatted – must have pinched it on one of the rocks – but the point is that immediately I was there and ready to rock and take on the best in the world. I did my job today. I just wanted to show that I could do it. I wanted to leave it all out there. I’m psyched.”
Back at the front, in his first Elite Worlds, Meeusen was anything but intimidated as he went to the front and increased an already jet-engine-fast pace to further string out the group. Chainel too got in the mix and used his road speed to keep the tempo red hot. Stybar then pushed the pace even harder, and a trio broke free as Nys and German national champ Walsleben were the only ones able to join him. Pauwels, Fontana, Wellens, Meeusen and Vanotournout comprised the chase group.
“For the beginning I had a really good feeling that I could ride at the front of the race,” Meeusen told Cyclocross Magazine. “I was really happy that people could see me riding in front. But I knew from the start that it was too hard to ride on this track with the first five, so when the first guys went away, I stayed in the next group until the finish. I am really happy with a top ten in my first World Championships with the elites.”
Those gaps would not hold for long, as a reshuffling would see Pauwels, Fontana and Vantournout merge with the lead trio. Italian cyclocross and cross-country champ Fontana then carved out a short-lived gap before Stybar launched a decisive counter-attack with Nys in pursuit, whittling the race down to two contenders with four laps to go.
Pauwels, Walsleben and Vantournout formed the new chase group, with Fontana dangling behind in the fight for the final podium spot.
One Last Attack for Telenet-Fidea
Nys went to the front several times, but was unable to put the reigning Czech and 2010 World Champion into difficulty. Stybar looked cool and calm, and the duo promptly put together a 20-second gap on the chasers as it became clear that this would be a two-man race. That dynamic didn’t last for long, however, as Stybar would take flight and quickly open up a gap of his own. Stybar flogged the pedals and left Nys far behind. Stybar came through the finish line with four to go with a four second lead, but the Czech champ would stretch that to 18 seconds one lap later, flying through the course visibly faster than the others. Nys would hold that margin but could not get any closer, and a late flat tire doomed his chances of doing any better than silver.
The Czech rider came into the finishing stretch with plenty of time to savor the moment, and to take in his surroundings as he captured his second consecutive Elite World Championship title under an array of flags and banners.
“I think no one really expected that I could play everything only on one card,” said Stybar. “It was a really big risk, as everyone knows I didn’t ride in Pont-Chateau, but I was riding as hard as I could in Mallorca. But I knew what I was working for, because this was the only way I could make my season good. Actually today during the race I was thinking of all the climbs and intervals I did in Malorca, because I recognized that the ride I did today in the race was like the training I did over there. I hope I don’t have to do it this way again, but it was a good choice for me.”
“I came to Telenet-Fidea as a World Champion in 2005, and I leave the team again as World Champion in 2011. I was four times World Champion on this team, and I don’t think I could give more to them than I did,” he added.
“The strongest guy won today,” said Nys. “It was one explosion too much for me. I had one flat tire, it cost me five, six seconds. I’m really happy with my second place. I’m 34, he’s 24, I’m ten years older and we’ve both won here before. I raced a perfect race, just a small flat tire, but otherwise I’m really happy. I’ve signed a contract through 2014, a long period. I’m motivated when I come here and see the crowds, it’s not so difficult to motivate myself. It’s one of the nicest things you can do. I’m really strong. I’m standing twice as first in the overall rankings. I was ill for the Belgium championships. But I’ve been five times on the podium, now six, and I don’t think you see from my level that I’m 35. I like my job, I like my sport, and I will try to promote the sport as long as possible. Today I was second, but I’m not disappointed because I was the second strongest today.”
The Battle for Bronze
Francis Mourey, well-known for his finishing sprints, was a dangerous addition to the chase group late in the final lap. The diminutive French rider was in 12th place with three to go, but saved his best for last, weaving through the field and surging past a sixth-place positioned Fontana on the last lap to join Vantornout, Pauwels, and Walsleben in the race for the final podium spot.
Vantornout proved the Belgian team can work together, and went to the front to offer Pauwels some help in the race for the podium. Pauwels was able to carve out a gap of his own before the final descent into the stadium, and the Belgian was able to hold that gap over the fast-closing Mourey as the two finished third and fourth, respectively, followed by Philipp Wasleben and Klaas Vantornout.
Pauwels had his own technical hurdles to overcome – he suffered from flat front tires on two separate occasions during the race. He also reported not having his best legs today, but made the most of what he had. “I let myself float up the final climb and do my thing. Walsleben absolutely wanted to be third, but I was too quick for him!” Pauwels said.
“I felt good but it was a lot of pain of course,” said Wasleben. “I didn’t have bad legs but when staying with Stybar and Nys it was a lot of pain. It was nice to ride in Germany with a lot of fans. Everyone was more focused on Hanka [Kuperfengal] but I think that I did a really good thing for cyclocross in Germany; everyone could see me on TV and on the internet. It was not the podium, but I can be satisfied. A good day for German cyclocross.”
When asked if he feels the pressure also from Belgian fans, he added, “I don’t have to be good in all the races in Belgium. I always try to but if I don’t do well in one of them, it’s a little problem for me but the press doesn’t have a problem with it. But if Niels is fifth, then it’s a problem. If you see the podium today, there is only one Belgian. [Ed. note there are actually two] That’s the problem of racing the whole year and being tired at Worlds. I live in Belgium full time, but get to go back to Germany about six to eight weeks every year – just the break after cyclocross season and a couple of weeks in the summer that I can return to Germany. My contract with BKCP-Powerplus ends at the end of 2011 because there weren’t any sponsors yet. But I hear that we may now have sponsors so I think I will go on with this team.”
“Like last year I was good but it wasn’t like I wanted,” said Vantornout. “The two leaders are very good, and I had a bad change of bikes and they were gone. It was a pity. But I did help Pauwels on the last lap for third place. I saw that Mourey was very fast so I said to Pauwels ‘go, go, go’ and he was on the podium. That was nice, but for the rest it was not so good.”
“It was a hard race,” said Wellens, who took eighth behind Fontana, to Cyclocross Magazine. “I knew before the race that I had to survive the first three laps because I always have a difficult first three laps. But in the third lap I had a flat and my morale lowered to zero. So I waited in the group of Tom [Meeusen] and thought I’d just wait there for the last lap. I knew that I was the best of those guys, but for only an 8th or 9th place – that’s not good enough at a World Championship. Only first place counted.”
As for Belgian teamwork, Wellens added, “There is a Belgian team with the same jerseys, but everybody wants to win. I think it’s an individual sport and not a team sport and I think everybody on the national team could have won today. But only the strong survive and sometimes you have a flat or a crash and that’s part of the sport! There are still nine races left so I’m going to try and win one of them.”
More Than Just Cyclocross?
Jonathan Page was in a hurry to finish not only to “do his job” but to be with his family as quickly as possible. Page’s attention will now be firmly on his wife, who is due to give birth at any moment with the couple’s third child, but still was out there cheering. “She’s one tough cookie,” Page said. One more piece of good news? Page’s performance earned him a new sponsorship from former Planet Bike owner Bob Downs.
There has been a great deal of speculation that Stybar would focus more on the road when he moves to the Pro Tour Quick Step team in March, but he put those worries on hold as he aims to do both road and cyclocross. “For sure for the next two years, I want to stay in cyclocross, especially with the [championship] jersey for next year. After that, I want to try my luck on the road.” Stybar has also said that he as the support of his new team both to continue to compete in ’cross and to take a run at the 2012 Olympics MTB title.
Photos by Bart Hazen:
|Place||#||NAME / First Name||Team||Time|
|1||1||STYBAR Zdenek||CZECH REPUBLIC||1:06:37|
|7||23||FONTANA Marco Aurelio||ITALY||+01:51|
|11||26||DE KNEGT Gerben||NETHERLANDS||+02:03|
|14||6||DLASK Petr||CZECH REPUBLIC||+02:16|
|20||36||HERMIDA RAMOS José Antonio||SPAIN||+02:55|
|21||33||MURGOITIO REKALDE Egoitz||SPAIN||+03:55|
|22||3||ZLAMALIK Martin||CZECH REPUBLIC||+03:56|
|28||5||BAMBULA Ondrej||CZECH REPUBLIC||+05:00|
|29||34||RUIZ DE LARRINAGA IBANEZ Javier||SPAIN||+05:00|
|30||27||VAN AMERONGEN Thijs||NETHERLANDS||+05:01|
|32||35||SUAREZ FERNANDEZ Isaac||SPAIN||-1LAP|
|34||37||FIELD Ian||GREAT BRITAIN||-2LAP|
|36||28||VAN IJZENDOORN Eddy||NETHERLANDS||-3LAP|
|38||39||CRAWFORTH Jody||GREAT BRITAIN||-4LAP|
|40||4||KYZIVAT Vladimir||CZECH REPUBLIC||-4LAP|
|43||7||KASEK David||CZECH REPUBLIC||-4LAP|
|44||38||OLDHAM Paul||GREAT BRITAIN||-5LAP|
|51||55||ST JOHN Derrick||CANADA||-6LAP|