Zdenek Stybar stormed off the start for the holeshot © Dan Seaton
by Dan Seaton
RUDDERVOODRE, BELGIUM—After weeks of uncharacteristically warm and pleasant early fall weather in Western Europe, temperatures plummeted and the rain returned, setting up a muddy kickoff to the Superprestige Series here in West Flanders. But if the sloppy course conditions were typical, the names were not, as the new UCI requirement that all C1 events include a women’s race meant that women were featured in Ruddervoorde for the first time.
However, not all were impressed with the implementation. The 12:30 start time – some five hours ahead of the Elite men – and a meager prize list kept both fans and a few big names away. But Kona’s Helen Wyman was undeterred by the early hour and took advantage of the sparse attendance to extend a streak of domination that started with nine wins in the United States with a wire-to-wire victory over fellow Brit Nikki Harris.
“I was a little disappointed [to be back in Europe] because I really liked America,” the reigning British Champion told Cyclocross Magazine, “but once I’m back, and winning here, it’s cool too. And I was confident coming into the race because America has really good riders, and the quality is high and you have to race hard over there. So I know I had some good form coming here. And having watched the results, Sanne van Paassen and Daphny van den Brand seem to be really good, and Nash and Compton seem to be really good, and none of them were here, so I felt like it was my race to lose.”
Wyman took off from the gun and never looked back. Though Harris spent much of the first three of the race’s four laps in hot pursuit of her countrywoman, Wyman simply didn’t let up
“From riding pre-race to now, there were a few bits that I was riding pre-race that were absolutely fine, but in the race they got a bit slippery and more tricky,” said Wyman. “And on the first lap I messed up a little bit…. So I had a small gap, but then it closed again. And after that, I couldn’t tell you what happened behind me, I just rode as hard as I could and rode as technically as good as I could. And when you’ve got a gap in ’cross, it’s really hard to shut. So as long as I was attacking, it would have been really difficult for Nikki to get back.”
By the time the racers got the bell, it was clear that, barring catastrophe, Wyman was untouchable, and the race would be for second place. Though France’s Lucie Chainel mounted a strong challenge for second in the closing moments of the race, she was unable to close the gap, claiming third behind the British duo of Wyman and Harris. Chainel’s podium finish marked a return to form after giving birth to a child with her husband, fellow French cyclocross star Steve Chainel, last season.
Amy Dombroski, in her first European race of the season, was the top American finisher in fifth place, behind Netherlander Sophie de Boer.
“I’m happy with the race,” said Dombroski afterwards. “I had a good start—that’s something that I sometimes struggle with. But I was immediately up in the top five with Helen and the other girls. I had a couple bobbles and lost some spots, but overall if you go really hard on that first lap, things kind of sort themselves out.”
Dombroski, who will spend most of the season on this side of the Atlantic, said that the race served as an encouraging kickoff to a new chapter in her racing career.
“I got over here on September 28th, so I had plenty of time to get the legs going. [In the last week] I got all settled, and I have a home here now, which always helps.”
She added that the new UCI-mandated opportunities for women to race in Europe served as motivation for the move to this side of the Atlantic.
“[It’s] one of the big reasons I decided to make it happen this year. In between now and Worlds I have more than 30 races. So you can be at home in Belgium and just drive – we’re only an hour and a half from here. The flying [in the US] takes so much out of you. It’ll be pretty drastically different this year, but I think I’m going to like the change.”
Fellow American Christine Vardaros finished 18th.
Albert Silences His Critics with Second Win in Two Weeks
By the time the men lined up some five hours after the start of the women’s race, the sun was breaking through the clouds and the temperature had climbed to close to 60 degrees, though the changing weather was more a benefit for the fans than the racers. The men would still face plenty of mud, however, and a course that had been churned up by three other races earlier in the day.
It was Zdenek Stybar – in his first big test of the season after skipping last week’s race in Kalmthout to rest a knee injury – who took the holeshot. The world champion stormed into the first corner at the head of a 46 man field, but French rider Steve Chainel, perhaps inspired by his wife’s podium finish in the day’s earlier race, quickly came to the front and stretched the field out single file behind him.
But by the end of the second lap Stybar had returned to the front and had opened a gap that suggested he might repeat his resounding solo victory in last year’s race in Ruddervoorde. Though the conditions were dramatically different, the setup further resembled last year’s race when Bart Aernouts – who finished second in the 2010 edition behind his friend Stybar – managed to pull away from a chase group of perhaps a dozen riders and join the Czech at the front of the field.
Stybar ran into mechanical trouble with four laps to go, and Aernouts found himself alone in front of a group that included not only Stybar, but also Sven Nys, Sven Vanthourenhout, Bart Wellens and Belgian champion Niels Albert.
Aernouts wasn’t alone for long, however; Albert attacked the chase group just before hitting the line with three laps to go and quickly closed the gap to the leader. The pair rode together briefly, but Albert attacked again and distanced Aernouts. In the final laps, as Albert consolidated his lead and Aernouts continued to pull away from the other chasers, the real race was for third place. Nys, Wellens, Stybar and Vantornout all had a chance at the final podium place, but it was Vantornout who finally wrapped it up. The lanky Belgian rider managed to pull clear of Nys in the final lap, while Nys himself held off Wellens and Stybar, who took fifth and sixth respectively.
After the race, Albert said his slow start was partly the result of some difficulty with his pedals in the early laps. “I had a little bit of trouble with my pedals because they had been set a little bit too hard during the beginning of the season when it was dry and fast,” he told Cyclocross Magazine. “But now it’s a little bit muddy and there’s sand, and [getting out of them] was a little bit of a problem at the beginning of the race. So I asked my mechanics to loosen them, and then I was able to change bikes and things went better.”
Albert, who was the subject of some scathing criticism from former world champion Roger de Vlaeminck that even rival Nys called a “low blow” two weeks ago, has responded with two big wins in October. Today Albert said that he wanted to win in Ruddervoorde to help him in a bid for the overall Superprestige title, one of two major titles he has never won.
“I know what I have to do to win here today, but it wasn’t easy because I rode yesterday. During the last two laps I was feeling a little bit tired, because yesterday was also a very hard race. So I’m very happy that I won. And I didn’t win for Roger de Vlaeminck, I won for myself, my team, my girlfriend – not for Roger.”
Aernouts, meanwhile, said he was happy to finish second in Ruddervoorde for the second year in a row, but believes better results are still on the way.
“I was second again, but the track was a lot different, and I’m very happy with this result, especially in these conditions, with the mud. I think it was one of my best races ever in the mud,” he said. “Last year I [made the podium] two times in big races, and I’m trying to do better this year. I’m trying to win a big race. I know it won’t be easy for me, but maybe one day all the pieces will fall into the right place and the day will be mine.”
American Jonathan Page made his return to his European base after a mixed early season in the United States. But Page’s first outing was disappointing; he told Cyclocross Magazine he was boxed in during the first lap. Though he began to move up once the race stretched out, the Planet Bike rider broke a wheel as the result of a hard fall during the second lap and was forced to withdraw from the race.
U23 podium in Ruddervoorde. Winner Wietse Bosmans, second Tijmen Eising and third World Champion Lars van der Haar.
Like the rest of the elite field, the U23 field was stacked to the gills, featuring CrossVegas winner and Cyclocross Magazine
issue 14 Euro superstar, Lars van der Haar. The soft-spoken Dutchmen snatched up third place, following race winner Wietse Bosmans in first and Tijmen Eising in second. Will we see any American U23s leaving their mark in the World Cup arena? Only time will tell, since the racing in Europe is just beginning to ramp up.
Elite Men – Bart Hazen
Elite Men – Dan Seaton
Elite Women – Bart Hazen
Elite Women – Dan Seaton
Brief Results – Women
|4||Sophie DE BOER||NED||22||36:33||30||30|
|9||Linda VAN RIJEN||NED||24||38:06||12||12|
|11||Nicole DE BIE – LEYTEN||BEL||37||38:44||8||8|
|14||Ellen VAN LOY||BEL||32||39:03||2||2|
|19||Tessa VAN NIEUWPOORT||NED||21||40:11|
|27||Marquerite DE NEVE||NED||18||45:02|
|32||Caitlyn LA HAYE||BEL||19||45:02|
Full Results – Men:
|12||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||26||1:03:41||6||6|
|18||Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLE||BEL||24||1:05:31|
|19||Patrick VAN LEEUWEN||NED||27||1:06:06|
|21||Twan VAN DEN BRAND||NED||23||1:06:36|
|22||Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN||NED||27||1:06:45|
|25||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||27||1:07:12|
|30||Dave DE CLEYN||BEL||24||1:08:36|
|35||Tim VAN NUFFEL||BEL||31|
|36||Steven DE DECKER||BEL||30|
Full Results, U23
|3||Lars VAN DER HAAR||NED||21||48:52:00||15||15|
|6||David VAN DER POEL||NED||20||50:00:00||8||8|
|20||Corne VAN KESSEL||NED||21||51:30:00|
|24||Angelo DE CLERCQ||BEL||21||52:08:00|
|39||Emil Arvid OLSEN||DEN||19||54:41:00|
|41||Tim DE SCHUYTER||BEL||19||55:04:00|
|51||Robin VAN DEN BRUEL||BEL||19|
|52||Mike VAN AKEN||BEL||20|
|54||Rutger LA HAYE||BEL||21|
|55||Nick VAN HUFFELEN||BEL||19|