Tim Johnson is riding well in Europe heading into the heart of the season. © Bart Hazen

Tim Johnson is riding well in Europe heading into the heart of the season. © Bart Hazen

Gavere, Belgium – Belgian Champion Sven Nys won the fourth round of the Superprestige Series in Asper-Gavere today. In a finish strikingly similar to that of the elite women’s race, Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) took a tire-width victory over Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) in Asper-Gavere, the fourth of the Superprestige series.

For the first several laps the race was wide open, as Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) ceded an early lead to two-time World Champion Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea). Wellens took the lead mid-way through the first lap, taking a five second lead after the first steep hill with a five-second Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea), Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea), Niels Albert (BCKP Powerplus), Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) and USA National Champion Tim Johnson (Cannondale p/b into lap two Albert took the lead and accelerated on the steep descent in the early lap. Due to his efforts the break was reduced to four riders with Stybar, Nys and Vantornout on his wheel. Pauwels would join the group a lap later as it became clear that Vantornout wasn’t the best of the break and was still feeling the effects of his crash in Hasselt yesterday. The five found each other and their lead grew lap by lap. Nys, Albert, Stybar and Pauwels all set the pace but nobody was able to force something at this stage in the race.

The next one to drop off the break was Zdenek Stybar. The World Champion wasn’t in his best day and lost contact after Nys countered Alberts attack on the steep climb. Nys pulled through and both Albert and Pauwels had to give all not to lose contact with Nys. Nys continued to show his strengths as he kept the pressure on his rivals and attacked another time on the steep climb with four laps to go. Pauwels fought back to Nys his wheel.

For a while Nys and Albert led Pauwels, but the soft-spoken Telenet-Fidea rider connected with them near the race’s midpoint and, when Albert dropped his chain with three to go, the dynamic suddenly switched. Instead of a three-headed battle, the race became a two-man contest, with Albert desperately trying to reconnect.

At the same time, American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), recovering from an overnight bout of intestinal illness, spent much of the early race trying to break through the top ten and into the front group, while countryman and US National Champion Tim Johnson ( battled his way back into the race after a lackluster start.

But while Page and Johnson both chased, the leaders powered over a classic Belgian cyclocross course, one laced with blistering technical descents and steep, slick climbs. Though the mud in Gavere was neither as thick or as dangerous as the brutal stuff that has given nearly every race this November instant classic status, it forced riders to stay alert throughout the winding lap, and sapped energy from their legs. Under the strain of heavy climbs over a sticky track, the front eventually began to fracture, leaving only Nys, Pauwels, and Albert in contention for the win.

Nys and Pauwels traded both attacks and bobbles, but neither seemed to have the power to finish his opponent, and neither wanted to let the always dangerous Albert back into the race either. So the two kept up the intensity, tactics taking a back seat to pure speed, and reached the end of the final lap together, with Nys just ahead as they hit the pavement. And, though Pauwels sprinted mightily after Nys got the jump with a surprise attack immediately after the final turn, he was moments too late, allowing the Belgian Champion to claim his seventh career victory in Gavere by the narrowest of margins.

“Kevin was really strong today”, said Nys. “I had to wait to launch my attack because he was that strong. I couldn’t make the gap big enough to drop him. I don’t think my sprint was irregular. If Pauwels was strong enough in the sprint he could have beat me.”

“I thought the finishing straight was long enough to beat Sven. He started the sprint very early and I couldn’t beat him. Sven was definitely better today, the strongest man has won”, thus Pauwels.

“On a hard course like this, normally I can do one explosion on the last lap, and I can ride in the front alone,” a jubilant Nys told reporters after the race. “But Kevin Pauwels was really strong today, and I did everything I could. I only made a little mistake in the beginning of the last climb and he could pass me, and I had to wait until I was half-way up the climb to do an explosion. And then it was a little bit too late, so I had to wait and put everything into the sprint. The last straight was full power, big gear, don’t look back. And I won the race. It’s really exciting.”

Nys added that he was pleased with a November campaign that netted him, so far, five victories, all in some of the more difficult conditions Belgian ‘cross has seen in the past few years. “These are all races where the strongest guy will win the race,” said Nys. “(Races decided by) technical skills, strong legs, experience, and that’s what I like the most. These are classics. To win like this, everybody thinks about it for the whole season.”

Pauwels, meanwhile, conceded that Nys had deserved a victory today. “I thought the finish was long enough to catch Sven,” he said. “Sven started the sprint right after the corner, and I couldn’t get my hands off the tops fast enough. Today, Sven was better in the mud, and in the sprint the strongest man won.”

As the two Americans chatted amiably and posed together for photos after the race, both said Gavere was a highlight, like nothing American racers normally experience. “When we come here,” said Johnson, “it’s always a little bit more difficult than going to a race at home. But it’s a hell of an experience. It’s like jumping into the Harvard-Yale football game or something. It’s a huge experience.”

Johnson said that, after a long trip to Belgium earlier in the week, he had not quite felt himself at the start. “Probably if I had good legs today, I might have had a little better start, and would have been able to fight some more,” he explained. “But as it was, I went as fast as I could. Only a couple of guys went by me, and I went by a couple of guys.”

Page said that after a night in which he lost nearly five pounds, he was just looking for consistency today. “I must have swallowed something in Hasselt,” he said. “I just tried to stay consistently good throughout the race. I went as fast as I could the whole time. At the end I had some serious trouble with cramping, but I kept going. I just suffered a lot. I wish I had finished the last lap stronger, but it was all I could do today. I really left it all out there, so I’m happy with that.

Photo Gallery

Elite Men’s Results

1 Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet 0:58:48
2 Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team
3 Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus 0:00:22
4 Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:01:05
5 Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:01:24
6 Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Revor 0:01:44
7 Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:01:49
8 Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank-Giant Off Road Team 0:02:12
9 Gerben De Knegt (Ned) Rabobank-Giant Off Road Team 0:02:26
10 Thijs van Amerongen (Ned) AA Drink Cycling Team 0:02:45
11 Kenneth van Compernolle (Bel) Sunweb-Revor 0:02:48
12 Timothy Johnson (USA) 0:02:51
13 Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:03:11
14 Jonathan Page (USA) Planet Bike 0:03:18
15 Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Rendement Hypo Cycling Team 0:03:39
16 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2R La Mondiale 0:03:41
17 Tom van den Bosch (Bel) AA Drink Cycling Team 0:04:19
18 Eddy van Ijzendoorn (Ned) AA Drink Cycling Team 0:05:00
19 Petr Dlask (Cze) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:05:07
20 Mariusz Gil (Pol) Baboco – Revor Cycling Team 0:05:21
21 Jan Verstraeten (Bel) KDL-Trans 0:05:40
22 Radomir Simunek Jr. (Cze) BKCP-Powerplus 0:05:49
23 Thijs Al (Ned) AA Drink Cycling Team
24 Patrick van Leeuwen (Ned)
25 Mitchell Huenders (Ned) BKCP-Powerplus
26 Bjorn Rondelez (Bel)
27 Craig Richey (Can) Cyclocrossracing.Com p/b Blue
28 Rene Birkenfeld (Ger) Harvesterhude Rv
29 Kristof Zegers (Bel)
30 Calero Candalicio (Spa)
31 Shaun Adamson (Can) Cycle-Smart