Niels Albert being caught by Sven Nys ©Dan Seaton

Niels Albert being caught by Sven Nys © Dan Seaton

by Dan Seaton

Ruddervoorde, Belgium. To say Sven Nys has suffered in the first month of the season is an understatement, and to say Niels Albert has dominated the world of cyclocross might be an even bigger understatement.  Coming in to the first race of the Superprestige series, Albert hadn’t lost a race, stretching his win streak to five after storming to victory on the hills of the Cyclocross de Namur Citadelle.  Nys, on the other hand, has struggled with the transition from mountain biking back to the ’cross bike, with one of the worst races of his career at the World Cup in Treviso, Italy, last week where he failed to finish after fading badly after the first laps of the race.  But Nys launched his turnaround on Saturday with a strong second place finish and managed to steer his season back onto the rails today, climbing from a start position deep in the pack to claim victory in Ruddervoorde.

Early in the race Albert seemed destined to stretch his win streak to six, surging to the front of the field as the race hit the first turn off of the pavement and on to the damp, but tacky course.  Albert quickly opened a significant gap and, by the end of the first lap, led by more than ten seconds. Nys, however, moved steadily through the field, connecting with Zdeněk Štybar and Klaas Vantornout at the head of the chase.  Just after cresting the first of two sets of stairs on the course, Nys launched his bid to join Albert at the front of the race, an attack which neither of the two others could cover.

While Albert continued to gain ground on most of the field, Nys tore through the course, finally joining him just as they reached the end of three laps.  The two traded the lead through the next several rounds of the course, but Nys looked completely in control of the race—none of Albert’s efforts to reopen a gap amounted to any serious gains.  Finally, on the fifth lap of the race, Nys made the decisive move, launching an acceleration to which Albert could not respond and stretching his lead, riding calmly to a 40 second victory.  Albert, for his part, showed his first signs of weakness yet this season, appearing both unable to match Nys’ pure speed on the day and losing considerable time at the end of the race to Štybar and fourth place finisher Sven Vanthourenhout.

By race’s end, the rain that had fallen on and off throughout the day was on again, and Nys rolled easily across the line, both arms raised in what looked to be as much a huge sigh of relief as it was victory salute.  The thunderous support of the crowd, pounding on the course barriers as the Belgian Champion crossed the line, left little doubt that, while Albert may be the World Champion, Nys remains Belgium’s favorite son.

“It’s not so easy this year because I had a hard season in summer on the mountain bike and this is another discipline,” Nys told Cyclocross Magazine after the race. “I’m very happy that I can win the race today and I was second yesterday in a hard race.  So I think my shape is really good, and I’ll try to win next week again.  Now I feel really confident.”

The crowds are always thick in Belgium. © Dan Seaton

The crowds are always thick in Belgium. © Dan Seaton

Nys said that his position deep in the starting grid—a result of his poor overall season standing after his disastrous ride at the World Cup—only added to the challenge.  “Yesterday it was not so problematic because it’s a hard climb, but today it’s difficult because one of the fastest riders was attacking on the first lap and I must close the gap from ten or eleven seconds,” he said. “So it’s really hard, but I get support from the public and from my supporters, and when you feel that energy you can do something you can’t do in training. And to beat the World Champion, of course it’s really nice.”

American Jonathan Page, who made the trip to Belgium on Thursday night after showing top form in early season competition in the US, finished some three minutes back in 18th place.  Page, who said before the race that he was still suffering from the effects of jet lag, told us he never really felt like he was in the race.  “When I travel it can go either way, I can be really good or I can be, like today, not really racing,” he said.  “So I’ll just keep the faith and it will come around again.”

Page said he was very happy to be racing in Europe again after a difficult 2008-09 campaign.  “I’m lucky to be racing, so I really want to take advantage of that.  This weekend it didn’t show, but eventually it will come back,” said Page.  “I wanted to start off with a bang in the United States, and I did that and now I’m looking forward to getting back on to it here.”

Jonathan Page chases the leaders in his second race back in Europe. © Dan Seaton

Jonathan Page chases the leaders in his second race back in Europe. © Dan Seaton

Complete Results (41 Starters)

1. Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) 59:23
2. Niels Albert 0:40
3. Zdenek Stybar (Tsj) 0:59
4. Sven Vanthourenhout 1:05
5. Klaas Vantornout 1:12
6. Radomir Simunek (Tsj)
7. Bart Aernouts 1:16
8. Dieter Vanthourenhout
9. Enrico Franzoi (Ita) 1:23
10. Kevin Pauwels 1:32
11. Gerben de Knegt (Ned) 1:48
12. Erwin Vervecken 2:00
13. Rob Peeters 2:09
14. Jan Verstraeten 2:13
15. Eddy van IJzendoorn (Ned) 2:24
16. Petr Dlask (Tsj) 2:35
17. Christian Heule (Zwi) 2:49
18. Jonathan Page (USA) 2:57
19. Mariusz Gil (Pol) 3:08
20. Thijs van Amerongen (Ned) 3:10
21. Wim Leemans
22. Tom Van den Bosch 3:14
23. Thijs Al (Ned) 3:16
24. Wilant van Gils (Ned) 3:25
25. Marco Bianco (Ita) 3:42
26. Tim Van Nuffel 3:50
27. Ben Berden 3:51
28. Gianni Denolf
29. Patrick van Leeuwen (Ned) 4:08
30. Martin Zlamalik (Tsj) 4:20
31. Roy van Heeswijk (Ned) 4:23
32. Stijn Huys
33. Geert Wellens 4:34
34. Ian Field (GBr) 4:41
35. Jan Soetens 4:58
36. Björn Rondelez 5:55
37. Daan de Jonge (Ned) 6:45
38. Jerry Kallenfels (Ned)