Sven Nys leads Zdenek Stybar © Bart Hazen

Sven Nys leads Zdenek Stybar © Bart Hazen

by Dan Seaton

BAAL, Belgium – Racing nearly in his back yard, Sven Nys claimed his tenth win in his namesake race by pulling away from World Champion Zdenek Stybar in the final few hundred meters of a cold, muddy contest.

On the first dreary winter day of 2011 in this tiny village northeast of Brussels, Nys rode through mud and melting snow—a leftover from the storms that turned two World Cups nearly into sled races—moving up from a poor start to take the lead on the second lap. Motivated by a boisterous and clearly partisan crowd, Nys, joined by Stybar for most of the race, powered their way around the heavy course to a finish almost a minute and a half ahead of third place finisher Niels Albert.

Early on, Lars Boom, one of only two riders ever to upend Nys on his home course in the twelve years the race has run, looked liked the biggest threat. Boom, in his last race in Belgium this season, surged away from the rest of the field during his second trip through the pits, quickly opening a gap of 10 meters. But the Dutch champion bobbled and fell awkwardly into the barriers on his way down the trickiest descent of the lap. Boom spend several seconds adjusting his bike before remounting, near the back of the field, but immediately was in trouble, looking awkward on the bike and massaging his back with one hand. He would leave the race early, telling reporters that he would go for x-rays of his tailbone.

Meanwhile, the race continued, and Stybar, who lead the race before Boom’s attack, picked up where he left off at the head of the field again. Stybar was joined in front by teammate Kevin Pauwels, but Nys was on the hunt and came past the fading Pauwels, setting up the two-man duel of the day.

During the rest of the race both would launch attacks and both would make mistakes on the difficult course, but nothing proved decisive, and the two made the trip down the final steep descent before the finish together. But near the bottom of the hill, Nys manage to slide by Stybar, passing close and slowing the Czech just a bit (see video highlights here). And as the two came around the 180-degree turn at the bottom of the hill, Nys unleashed a fierce attack with Stybar couldn’t answer, and in seconds Nys had a significant gap.

That move did prove decisive, and the elated—and mud-covered—Nys was able to roll across the line comfortably ahead of the obviously disappointed Stybar, who missed out on the chance to take his first major victory since his return to racing on at the beginning of the week.

“Maybe four or five thousand people are here for me today,” Nys told Cyclocross Magazine after the race. “It’s my hometown, and it’s really important to do a good race here. I have a lot of fans here, and I gave everything to win this race.”

The Belgian Champion—for whom today’s win was the fifth straight in Baal—said his near-perfect move near the end of the race was only part of a plan insomuch as he hoped to avoid a sprint with the dangerous Czech rider.

“Every space on the track it is possible to have a gap, because it’s so dangerous and muddy. Stybar is really dangerous to do a sprint with, and it was a really hard downhill and Stybar was doing it perfectly and I had to follow. And then I had, really, the perfect line, and that for me was a sign that I could win the race today.”

Stybar, on the other hand, said the second place finish was bittersweet.

“Mixed emotions is a very good word for this moment,” said the World Champion. “Today I felt very good, finally, and today I was really close to the win. I really thought I could win today, especially when I passed Sven in the second [pit]. But then I took a wrong line and it was just too deep, and Sven just passed before the sharp turn, and even there I knew already that I couldn’t pass him because he got maybe three or four meters, and I couldn’t pass him anymore.”

Stybar added, however, that the knee injury that sidelined him for the better part of a month continues to improve.
Three Americans also took the start, with Jonathan Page continuing to show strong form, passing a number of riders and eventually racing for a spot inside the top ten. But late in the race Page fell into one of the many frigid puddles that lined the course, and slowed by the effects of the cold.

“It was really cold,” Page told Cyclocross Magazine. “Not so much the temperature, but just ice water coming up at you the whole time. My start wasn’t terrible, I just wasn’t directly up there. Then I started coming back and coming back, close to tenth place in a big group. But that’s where I made my little mistake that turned into a huge mistake. I just clipped my hood on one of the turns with the padding and it flipped me to the ground, but I was on the ground in a big ice puddle. Basically I went the rest of the race going from cold to colder.” Page, the top American of the day, finished 14th.

While Stybar and Nys did battle at the front of the race, Page’s countrymen Brian Matter and Mark Lalonde fought a fierce duel of their own a little further back. Matter won the day, finishing 32nd, while Lalonde finished 33rd.

In the U23 race, Belgian Wietse Bosmans took the win in a sprint over compatriot Joeri Adams. Cody Kaiser was the sole American and finished in 33rd.Stay tuned for a full report. Full results and video below the photos.

Elite Photo Gallery:

U23 Photo Gallery:

Last 2 Laps Video

Larger video is here

Full Results:

Elite Men
1Sven NYSBEL3557:01:0080
2Zdenek STYBARCZE2657:11:0060
3Niels ALBERTBEL2558:21:0040
4Klaas VANTORNOUTBEL2958:34:0030
5Bart WELLENSBEL3358:47:0025
6Martin ZLAMALIKCZE2958:59:0020
7Kevin PAUWELSBEL2759:03:0017
8Tom MEEUSENBEL2359:05:0015
9Enrico FRANZOIITA2959:16:0012
10Jan DENUWELAEREBEL2359:33:0010
11Rob PEETERSBEL2659:41:008
12Christian HEULESUI3659:44:006
13Philipp WALSLEBENGER2459:53:004
14Jonathan PAGEUSA351:00:042
16Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLEBEL231:00:51
17Davy COMMEYNEBEL311:01:03
18Petr DLASKCZE351:01:24
19Thijs ALNED311:01:47
20Tom VAN DEN BOSCHBEL261:02:10
22Patrick GAUDYBEL341:02:51
23Stijn HUYSBEL251:03:14
24Kevin CANTBEL231:03:31
25Ben BERDENBEL361:03:39
27Tim VAN NUFFELBEL301:04:00
28Robert GAVENDASVK231:04:06
29Bram SCHMITZNED341:04:19
34Kristof ZEGERSBEL23
U23 Results
1Wietse BOSMANSBEL2050:14:0030
2Joeri ADAMSBEL2250:15:0020
3Vinnie BRAETBEL2051:29:0015
4David VAN DER POELNED1952:19:0012
5Gianni VERMEERSCHBEL1952:21:0010
6Marcel MEISENGER2252:34:008
7Jens ADAMSBEL1952:39:006
8Matthieu BOULOFRA2252:44:004
9Mike TEUNISSENNED1952:45:002
10Kobus HEREIJGERSNED2252:50:001
11Jiri POLNICKYCZE2253:04:00
12Micki VAN EMPELNED2153:28:00
13Twan VAN DEN BRANDNED2253:34:00
14Arnaud GRANDSUI2153:34:00
15Tijmen EISINGNED2053:44:00
16Marek KONWAPOL2153:49:00
17Stef BODENBEL2153:54:00
18Vincent BAESTAENSBEL2254:01:00
19Corne VAN KESSELNED2054:34:00
20Stijn MORTELMANSBEL2254:59:00
21Daniel RUIZ ECHEANDIAESP2155:23:00
22Raf RISBOURGBEL2055:54:00
23Joeri HOFMANBEL1956:04:00
24Matteo TRENTINITA2256:14:00
25Niels KOYENBEL2056:24:00
27Wojciech HERBAPOL20
28Valentijn VAN DE VELDEBEL20
29Matthias BOETENSBEL20
30Jelle CANTBEL19
32Simon GEETSBEL21