DIEGEM, BELGIUM – In a spectacular night race, thick with mud and rain, world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) overcame a poor start to take command halfway through the race and dance away from a large pack containing Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep), Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), and Lars van der Haar (Rabobank), among others, to win his fourth consecutive Superprestige Diegem.
Niels Albert won his fourth consecutive Superprestige Diegem today © Bart Hazen
Albert capitalized on an initial surge by Vantornout before bridging, and then dropping, the lanky Sunweb-Revor rider on the fifth lap, and proceeded to build an insurmountable lead as the rain came pouring down. It was another fine victory for the world champion, who has had a frustrating season of second places and near misses. Alberts’ season rival, Sven Nys, also had a poor start, slipping twenty riders down in the opening turns, and took most of the race to reconnect with the tail end of the lead group. The Belgian champion never factored into the podium, however, as a brutal acceleration by Stybar and then a bobble on a small popper shot him off the back on the final lap. Though Nys regained contact, Stybar had already escaped with Pauwels on his wheel. The two former world champions duked it out for the remainder of the lap, with Pauwels getting the upper hand on a 180 degree turn and taking the gap to the line. Nys came in seventh, and still leads in the series, with 83 points to Albert’s 78.
The Value of A Good Start
At the gun, Lars van der Haar exploded off the line, leading a wave of riders on the left side of the start blocks, which pushed those on the right – notably Albert and Nys – back into the fold. Apparently there was confusion, as well, with the start lights. “Suddenly someone clapped his hands and there was a whistle and everyone left,” said Albert. “Very confusing. Nys and I were surprised.” As the train came into the first right hand turn, those on the inside were squeezed out, and suddenly the two champions found themselves twenty riders back as at the front Kevin Pauwels took the lead, followed closely by van der Haar, Tom Meeusen, and Rob Peeters. Zdenek Stybar fared better off the line, and was close to the front.
The race for second was hard fought © Bart Hazen
The pack stayed together through the first lap, with Peeters, and then Vantornout doing much of the work at the front. Vantornout continued to lead through the second lap, stringing the group out and forcing the first small gaps to form. By the time the riders came around for the third lap, a group of six had formed at the front, with Vantornout, Stybar, Peeters, Aernouts, Pauwels and van der Haar making the selection, and a second group containing Dieter Vanthourenhout and Jim Aernouts nipping at their heels as they rode and ran through the ankle-deep mud. Niels Albert had found his way into the second chase group, but Nys still lagged further behind.
The Svens: Vanthourenhout and Nys © Bart Hazen
By the third lap, the lead group had ballooned to 13 riders, with Dieter Vanthourenhout , Jim Aernouts, Tom Meeusen, Radomir Simunek and Niels Albert all making contact. Stybar moved to the front and set a blistering pace, attacking up the inclines and powering through the mud, creating larger gaps behind him but failing to dislodge any riders from the lead pack. Roughly twenty seconds behind them, Sven Nys had worked his way through the traffic and now rode with his teammate, Sven Vanthourenhout, who had fallen out of the lead group.
Albert Destroys the Race
Klaas Vantornout then launched an attack of his own, taking advantage of the long sections of running and escaping from the lead group. At times the lanky rider had as much as six seconds, though Stybar repeatedly brought Vantornout back, only to have the Sunweb-Revor rider again slip away. On Vantornout’s final gap, gained on the long climb, Albert took to the front and exploded away from the group, catching and passing Vantornout, who grabbed onto the world champion’s wheel.
Half a lap later, Albert was alone, Vantornout fading back to the group, and storming away to his fourth consecutive win at Superprestige Gieten. The chasers would never see him again.
The group remained large, however, with roughly ten riders still together and Nys making slow gains behind them. As Stybar led the pursuit behind, the question now became – would Nys pull a Nys?
Looking strong in the group, as well, was Lars van der Haar, who was clearly finding the course to his liking. The small Rabobank rider was rarely more than two riders back, and with three laps to go took over the chase at the front. With two to go, the neo-pro had opened up a gap to the rest of the chasers, and it looked as if he would find himself on the podium. The pace was costing many of the riders, and what had been a tight group began to stretch, with Jim Aernouts the first to fall off the pace and a long string of riders trailing behind Stybar, Pauwels, Peeters and Vantornout, who still stayed together. Behind them, Nys had just made contact with Aernouts.
The Battle for Second
Stybar leading Pauwels © Bart Hazen
On the final lap, Nys finally made what looked to be a secure contact with the leaders, again leaving spectators to wonder if he would pull some magic out of his bag of tricks. Just as he grabbed the lead group’s wheel, however, Stybar made his bid for the podium and launched a searing attack, blowing the group apart and taking Pauwels with him. As they came into a small, steep popper, Nys then bobbled, and all chances of making the podium disappeared.
“I just wasn’t good enough,” said Nys after the race. “It’s always difficult for me to win, but this time I just had bad legs. I tried to limit the damage, but it was [all I could do] to finish in seventh. I guess I’m still not recovered from this difficult period. The vessel is completely empty. I’ll try to recharge the batteries, but I don’t know how the coming weeks will be.”
However, Nys was not about to admit defeat in the overall rankings. “The struggle for the victory is certainly not over,” he said. “A bad day is not enough to ruin your rankings.”
As Stybar led Pauwels around the remainder of the course, the Sunweb-Revor rider waited patiently. As the two dismounted for a section of course that required a run, then a 180 degree turn into another stretch of running, Pauwels accelerated into the turn, took the inside, and forced Stybar to pause momentarily. The move was enough for Pauwels to capitalize on, and soon he had enough of a gap to neutralize Stybar’s sprint, and crossed the line in second, nearly 40 seconds after Niels Albert gloried in his second victory of Christmas Week.
“It was very exciting,” said Albert about his tough start. “But I could reconnect. I bade my time to jump and Vantornout was the ideal target. I am very happy with this victory.”
“Because Sven only got seventh place, I’m still [in the running for] the Superprestige. He has twice already had an off-day. I’m glad my form at the moment is very good. [GvA] Baal is still very important to me, but I am now anxious for the championships.”
Bart Hazen Photo Gallery
2012 Superprestige Diegem - Men
|9||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED||1:00:39|
|22||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||1:03:22|
|24||Micki VAN EMPEL||NED||1:03:51|
|28||Dave DE CLEYN||BEL||1:04:28|
|31||Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLE||BEL||1:05:12|
|34||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||1:05:35|