Niels Albert takes his second World title. His biggest win in his career thus far for home crowd. Bart Hazen

Here, Niels Albert takes his second World title. © Bart Hazen

by David Evans

After a couple of lackluster weekends, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) outclassed the competition in the final GVA Trofee race in Oostmalle. Albert saw the front of the race for the first time after forty minutes and, unfortunately for his competitors, didn’t see a wheel in front of him for the rest of the race. His technical proficiency in the sandy corners and slimy quasi-singletrack sections proved too much for an obviously strong Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep) and smooth Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor).

Specks of rain blurred the lenses of the TV cameras as Jim Aernouts (Sunweb-Revor) led his teammate Kevin Pauwels through the hole shot. A mixture of bare legs and full leg warmers could be spotted in the peloton, showing the mixed approaches to the start of Belgium’s uneasy transition from deep winter to wet and windy spring. Pauwels soon took over the front of the race, his easy lines through the corners belying the greasiness caused by several days of light rain and mild temperatures. Aernouts slipped to third and was seen to plant his feet several times in the woods. Pauwels took the opportunity to test the field, putting eight seconds into the field by the time he crossed the Start/Finish line. Sven Vanthourenout (Landbouwkredeit) was at the head of the chase as it rounded the corner on to the finishing straight, but Stybar and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) took advantage of much head-turning and soft-pedaling to start the chase in earnest.

Stybar quickly opened a gap over Meeusen, and behind them both Sven Nys (Landbouwkredeit) and Niels Albert took bike changes. The now alone Stybar rapidly gained ground on Pauwels, although the catch wouldn’t occur until the middle of the next lap. Pauwels started the third lap with four seconds advantage over the Czech, while the rest of the chase muddled along 16 seconds behind. Nys and Albert could be seen near the back of a seven man group, but only Albert took the initiative to move up through the chase. He stole two place before the sandy run, by the end of it he led it. Soon he and Meeusen opened up, crossing the Start/Finish 18 seconds down on the leading pair.

Despite being with Pauwels for almost two laps, Stybar had yet to take a turn on the front by the midpoint of the fourth lap. Behind them, Albert had unzipped his jersey and worked on laying down a six minute, 16 second fourth lap, equaling the fastest of the day. Nys looked intent on joining him in the chase, but didn’t manage to make any serious dent in the lead of those in front of him. Albert, by this point absolutely flying, looked certain to make the catch. Pauwels, perhaps recognizing the danger that Albert presented, turned the screw just before the World Champion made contact. The commentators, in a rare show of lingual cognates, described this move as “perfection.”

The rain changed from drizzle to downpour as Stybar moved to the front. He attacked early in sixth lap, Albert struggled to hold Pauwels’ wheel in the chase. Stybar’s time at the front ended when he misjudged the two rideable sandy hairpins that follow the runnign section. He lost about a second of his advantage in the first, but exited the corner with almost no leg speed, ensuring that he would be caught by the time he left the second.

The seventh lap started after just shy of 40 minutes racing. Albert moved to the front for the first time in the race and played his had. Stybar was still recovering from his attack in the previous lap and Pauwels looked to be blunted by the best part of 30 minutes of setting the pace. Albert’s attack immediately caused problems for the other leaders; Pauwels pulled his foot out of his pedal, Stybar nervously threw himself into every corner to limit his losses to just four seconds to Pauwels.

Albert completed the seventh lap in a day’s equal best of 6:16″, impressive considering how the ever-intensifying rain had changed the course by this point. The same changes caused Stybar to follow new lines through the woods, seeking rougher ground with more traction than the slick mud. He overcame Pauwels, but his pedal stomping couldn’t challenge the consummate cornering of Albert. As the three riders exited the woods for the penultimate time their faces defined their styles: Albert’s mouth agape from putting out a couple of massive laps; Styabr, almost 10 seconds down, grimacing as he honked his bike back and forth; Pauwels placid in the knowledge that a third place would secure his overall title.

After he took the bell, Albert relaxed a little bit as the crowd applauded his ride. His flawless last lap took north of seven minutes, but he still had time to spare in the final straight. In a momentary lapse of “pro etiquette,” he saluted before fully zipping up his jersey. He rectified this before crossing the line, showing the rainbow stripes in the last major race of the season. Waves were had from Stybar in second, and overall winner Kevin Pauwels in third. Sven Nys soloed home in fourth, having had an anonymous race probably caused by fatigue from the previous day’s win.

Daphny van den Brand takes the win ahead of the normally unstoppable Marianne Vos

Daphny Van den Brand (AA won her last ever professional cyclocross race at Sunday’s GVA Trofee in Oostmalle. She out-sprinted the usually dominant Marianne Vos (Rabobank) in a two-up sprint after escaping with the World champion in the first lap of the race. To honor the retiring former World champion, many of the racers in the women’s field wore their hair in twin braids, much to the amusement of Daphny.

In a style that has come to define women’s cyclocross this past season, Vos and Van den Brand simply rode away from the rest of the women’s peloton. Vos did the lion’s share of the work throughout the race, with Van den Brand taking the front for only short turns each lap.

The anticipated attack by Vos never materialised, instead Van den Brand matched her as they entered the finishing straight for the last time. Vos led out the sprint, but Van den Brand managed to overhaul her before the line. Speaking to a Belgian journalist after the race, Vos denied that she had gifted Van den Brand the win, saying, “there are no gifts handed out in sport.”

“Yes, it was,” countered the forthright Van den Brand.

Saane Van Passen (Brainwash Wielerploeg) held on to a two second advantage over Saane Cant (Boxx Veldritacademie) to complete the podium.

Results follow galleries

Men’s Gallery by Bart Hazen

Women’s Gallery by Bart Hazen

U23 Gallery by Bart Hazen

Men’s Results:

1Niels ALBERTBEL2658:37:008080
2Zdenek STYBARCZE2758:52:006060
3Kevin PAUWELSBEL2859:01:004040
4Sven NYSBEL3659:23:003030
5Tom MEEUSENBEL2459:27:002525
6Bart AERNOUTSBEL3059:27:002020
7Radomir SIMUNEKCZE2959:27:001717
8Rob PEETERSBEL2759:27:001515
9Dieter VANTHOURENHOUTBEL2759:36:001212
10Sven VANTHOURENHOUTBEL3159:51:001010
11Klaas VANTORNOUTBEL301:00:0988
12Philipp WALSLEBENGER251:00:1266
13Gerben DE KNEGTNED371:00:1544
14Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLEBEL241:00:1922
15Vincent BAESTAENSBEL231:00:3611
17Tom VAN DEN BOSCHBEL271:01:06
18Kevin CANTBEL241:01:09
19Jim AERNOUTSBEL231:01:09
20Patrick GAUDYBEL351:01:15
21Martin ZLAMALIKCZE301:01:15
22Patrick VAN LEEUWENNED271:01:15
23Joeri ADAMSBEL231:01:36
24Jonathan PAGEUSA361:01:42
25Thijs VAN AMERONGENNED261:01:47
26Bart HOFMANBEL271:01:47
27Christian HEULESUI371:01:49
29Stijn HUYSBEL261:02:40
30Dave DE CLEYNBEL241:02:51
31Sten RAEYMAKERSBEL341:02:55
32Kristof COPBEL231:02:58
33Bart VERSCHUERENBEL261:03:13
34Gianni DENOLFBEL251:04:08
38Joachim PARBODEN38

Women’s Results:

1Daphny VAN DEN BRANDNED3443:29:008080
2Marianne VOSNED2543:29:006060
3Sanne VAN PAASSENNED2445:17:004040
4Sanne CANTBEL2245:19:003030
5Nikki HARRISGBR2645:41:002525
6Sabrina STULTIENSNED1946:09:002020
7Arenda GRIMBERGNED3446:36:001717
8Helen WYMANGBR3146:43:001515
9Pavla HAVLIKOVACZE2946:45:001212
10Joyce VANDERBEKENBEL2847:36:001010
11Amy DOMBROSKIUSA2547:58:0088
12Sophie DE BOERNED2248:10:0066
13Nicole DE BIE - LEYTENBEL3748:13:0044
14Nikoline HANSENDEN2548:29:0022
15Evy KUIJPERSNED1749:20:0011
16Iris OCKELOENNED2049:34:00
17Ellen VAN LOYBEL3249:40:00
18Lana VERBERNENED2050:03:00
19Karen VERHESTRAETENBEL2150:13:00
20Nancy BOBERBEL3750:32:00
21Katrien THIJSBEL27
23Margriet Helena KLOPPENBURGDEN24
24Christine VARDAROSUSA43
29Marijke DE PAUWBEL22
32Caitlyn LA HAYEBEL19