One week after Niels Albert had victory stolen from him by 2010 World Champ Zdenek Stybar  in the final turns in Vorselaar—and just a day ahead of cyclocross’ final outdoor race of the season—the 2009 World Champion once again found himself on the losing end of a last minute battle, this time being outkicked by Sven Nys in the final meters of the Kleicross in Lebbeke. Nys, who will defend his lead in the only remaining major series, the GVA Trofee, in Oostmalle tomorrow, showed he’s playing to win this week when he bridged up to early leader Bart Wellens, then went solo halfway through the race.

Despite some of the mildest and most pleasant conditions Belgian ‘cross has seen in weeks, the 19 racers who took the start in Lebbeke were confronted with a heavy course. As temperatures warmed at the end of the week, the snow that fell during last week’s Superprestige race in Vorselaar began to melt, saturating the thick, clay-based soil from which the race takes its name.

“This was a heavy ‘cross,” said Nys afterwards. “The course was not easy. It was a real elimination race.”

Indeed, more than one rider took a lead only to fade later on. First Bart Wellens surged off the front in the second lap, grabbing a ten second lead over four chasers, Nys, Albert, Bart Aernouts, and Sven Vanthourenhout, who looked fine in his return from an ugly shin injury in last week’s race in Vorselaar.  Then, at about the midpoint of the race, Nys managed to reach and then drop Wellens, grabbing a sizable lead of his own.  But Albert and Aernouts quickly responded, and Nys could not fend off a late surge by Albert, who rode Nys down in the final lap of the day while Aernouts faded into third place.

Nys and Albert appeared evenly matched coming into the finish before Nys managed to summon some deep reserves, pouring himself into the final sprint and holding off Albert by just two seconds.  Aernouts crossed the line some 20 seconds back, while Wellens was the only other racer to finish within two minutes of the leaders, taking fourth place, about 50 seconds behind Nys.

“Niels Albert is still dangerous in the finish, but I was able to use my explosiveness in the sprint. This was a deserved victory, my fifteenth of the season,” Nys added later. Nys, whose season has been marred by problems both physical and technical, holds a nearly insurmountable 14 point lead in the GVA Trofee, which wraps up tomorrow. After failing to complete the first World Cup race in Treviso, Italy, and being sidelined with a broken derailleur in the Diegem Superprestige in late December, the GVA Trofee is the only chance the Belgian Champion has at a major series title this season. Nys captured all three series in the 2009/2010 season.

Stybar, who skipped today’s race, is tied with Albert for second place going into tomorrow.

Be sure to check tomorrow for all the action from Oostmalle as we begin the final week of the European ‘cross season.

Brief Results

1. Sven Nys
2. Niels Albert
3. Bart Aernouts
4. Bart Wellens
5. Kenneth Van Compernolle
6. Sven Vanthourenhout
7. Klaas Vantornout
8. Rob Peeters
9. Tom Meeusen
10. Tim Van Nuffell