As It Happened
It was a brilliantly sunny day – in sharp contrast to the stormy weather of Christmas Week in Belgium – as the men lined up to compete on a dry, flat, grassy course whose sinuous turns were the only obstacle, aside from a single set of barriers at the bottom of a small dip. Lars van der Haar took the holeshot, with Pauwels and Vantornout on his wheel. Niels Albert quickly moved up to the front on the thinly-sanded race track as Francis Mourey took over duties leading the pack. Sven Nys, who missed his namesake race due to bronchitis, was lost somewhere further down in the group.
As the peleton finished the first lap, Klaas Vantornout, whose team has taken a new co-sponsor and is now Sunweb-Napoleon Games, took over lead duties on a very svelte prototype Ridley, rumored to be officially debuted at the World Championships in Louisville, and Sven Nys, who left his Belgian champion’s jersey at home to don the World Cup leader’s white, suddenly appeared in eighth position. Mourey, clearly happy with the fast conditions, again took over and led for much of the lap before Albert decided to take a turn.
Albert’s pace-setting did what it tends to do, and the pack began to thin as they came around for the next lap, though the group remained largely unbroken. Kevin Pauwels briefly had a go at the lead, but a bobble on one of the few course features saw him struggle with his balance for a quick moment, and Albert and Lars van der Haar swung through with the smallest of gaps as Pauwels regained his momentum.
Lars van der Haar then took to the front and accelerated hard to push the pace. It was unclear what happened next, but the reigning U23 World Champion suddenly went end over end, crashing down and losing the chance at what might have been a strong finish on a course that suited the punchy racer. The crash aided a seperation, and as the racers came around for seven to go, Pauwels, Albert, Vantornout and Mourey had established a gap, with Pauwels turning the screws on the rest. Italian National Champion Marco Aurelio Fontana launched a hard solo chase in pursuit, riding a disc-equipped Cannondale and spurred on by the home crowd and the memory of the recently deceased South African racer Burry Stander, who last week was killed after a collision with a taxi. Fontana was the only racer bunny hopping the barriers, and the extra few seconds gained allowed him to catch the lead four just as they came across for six to go.
Prior to the race, Sven Nys reported that he was not back to 100%, and as the race went off ahead of him, the Belgian led the first chase behind, 16 seconds down. As Pauwels took over lead duties, Fontana bobbled trying to again bunny hop the barriers, and though he didn’t go down, it was enough to lose contact and the Italian champ again found himself chasing. It was a bad moment for a bobble, as Pauwels did not waste his time at the front and put in a commanding dig that saw Albert grit his teeth to hang on.
With five laps to go, Pauwels, Albert, Vantornout and Mourey were all together, with Fontana chasing with his entire body. Further back, Lars van der Haar led the pursuit, but Nys had fallen off the first chase and crossed over twenty seconds behind. With Nys and Albert both tied for the World Cup lead, it became clear that the white jersey would be changing hands at the end of the race.
Just before four to go, Klaas Vantornout jumped out of the lead group and opened a small gap over the rest, forcing Albert to chase as Pauwels took a rest behind the World Champion, Fontana still chasing off the back. Sven Nys continued slipping backward, minimizing his losses and perhaps not wanting to push himself too far into the red, and crossed over thirty seconds down, well outside the top ten.
As Vantornout pushed his lead off the front, the Italian champion Fontana successfully hopped the barriers and managed to claw himself back onto the wheels of the leaders for the second time, making the lead group the most international affair we’ve seen all season. Pauwels, however, took a look behind him and saw van der Haar chasing perhaps closer than he’d like, and took off in pursuit of his teammate. Pauwels managed to bridge the gap without pulling the rest with him, and then it was a Sunweb-Napoleon Games duo at the front, no doubt making their new sponsor elated.
As Mourey led the chase behind, Pauwels pulled ahead of, and then away from, Vantornout, looking ready to take his third World Cup victory of the season. Vantornout, however, wasn’t going to let Pauwels just ride away with the win and put in an impressive display of power on a long straightaway, pulling himself back up to his teammate. The two crossed the line together with two laps to go, with Albert leading the chase 12 seconds back and Lars van der Haar leading a small group at 26 seconds.
Albert, perhaps worried at the very large legs of both Mourey and Fontana, decided not to let the third podium spot come down to a sprint and escaped from the French and Italian riders. Fontana, however, had all the power of his home country behind him and somehow found the energy to move around Mourey and – for the third time this race – bridge back to Albert as they came in for the final lap, 12 seconds off Pauwels and Vantornout.
The Italian’s pursuit was the most animating ride of the day, and he threw himself at the course, dangling off Albert’s wheel but never quite able to make solid contact. At the front, Pauwels lit another match and Vantornout found that his box was empty. The lanky rider watched his teammate ride away for the win, and now had a hard-chasing World Champion to worry about behind him.
Pauwels was now clear to fly, and with nothing but clean, dry course ahead of him the quiet Belgian crossed the line alone, hands raised, his third World Cup victory of the season secured.
Behind him, however, an unexpected drama unfolded as Klaas Vantornout dropped his chain with only a handful of turns left in the race. As Vantornout dismounted and struggled to get his chain back, first Albert and then a clearly excited Fontana passed him by, ending the Sunweb-Napoleon Games rider’s chance at the podium finish that had seemed all but secure. Albert crossed the line safely in second, and Fontana made the most of his podium finish on Italian soil, clapping hands with the crowd, displaying his jersey, and soaking in his finish well-deserved podium. Sven Nys, crossed in 20th.
“I could not do more today,” said Nys after the race. “My body has not recovered from my illness. That way you can not defend. I had to try it here. Otherwise I would have wondered what it would have been.”
2013 World Cup Rome Elite Men
|3||Marco Aurelio FONTANA||ITA||1:01:39|
|6||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED||1:02:07|
|10||Twan VAN DEN BRAND||NED||1:02:27|
|14||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||1:02:31|
|27||Micki VAN EMPEL||NED||1:03:56|
|29||Gerben DE KNEGT||NED||1:04:01|
|41||Patrick VAN LEEUWEN||NED||1:04:52|