by Chris Bagg

IGORRE, SPAIN — Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) took another win on the World Cup circuit today in Igorre, distancing main rival and last weekend’s adversary Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) by 15 points in the series. After some early shuffling, the outcome was never in doubt, as the non-technical course provided nothing to break up the rhythm of the leaders. Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and Bart Aernouts (Rabobank) provided the sole drama of the day battling for third up until the closing meters of the race.

Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) took the holeshot after an incredibly fast group start. Peeters accelerated from the first run-up and found a small gap through the first lap, as Radomir Simunek Jr. (BKCP-Powerplus) and Mitchell Huenders (Cyclingteam Jo Piels) gave chase. As the chasers went through the first pavement section, the front group came together, with Enrico Franzoi (Selle Italia Guericotti) joining and then passing Peeters. Soon the favorites and regulars found the front, with Pauwels, Nys, Klass Vantournout (Sunweb-Revor), Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep) and Francis Mourey (FDJ) bridging up to the three fast starters.

Soon, a huge group watched each other at the head of the race, with a few racers dropping back to take bikes on the second lap. Conditions were dry and overcast, but a few patches of mud had riders thinking about swapping their bikes. Lap times were quite quick, between five and a half and six minutes. As the group came through the second lap, Sven Nys went to the front and stretched the frontrunners into a long line. Vantournout looked to hold things together for his teammate and World Cup leader Kevin Pauwels, who had taken a bike on the second lap and had ground to make up. Soon the two had a gap, with Nys attacking unrelentingly and Vantournout gamely hanging on. Behind them Stybar, Mourey, Simunek Jr., Pauwels, and Franzoi looked at each other, and Nys continued to press his advantage, beginning to drop Vantournout. He finished the third lap with a gap of ten seconds on the tall Belgian.

Pauwels and Stybar came up to Vantournout at the start of lap three, looking to bring back Nys, who appeared to be riding his old unforgiving style. Vantournout couldn’t stay with the other chasers, as Pauwels derived strength from his World Cup leader skinsuit and put his teammate and Stybar into difficulty. On the long, switchbacking grass descent, Pauwels made contact with Nys and found the Belgian’s wheel. Eight chasers went through the start/finish 23 seconds in arrears, with Stybar in no-man’s-land between. That chasing group included Bart Aernouts, Klass Vantournout, Francis Mourey, Steve Chaniel, Tom Meeusen, Simunek Jr., Dieter Vanthourenhout and Enrico Franzoi.

Soon it looked like a repeat of last week at Koksijde, with Nys and Pauwels along at the front, Nys declining to let Pauwels take the front for even a moment. Those two have been trading verbal barbs all week, after Nys’ controversial win at Koksijde, where Nys came across the finishing straight in the final sprint, cutting off Pauwels’ line to the finish. The Igorre course made up for its lack of mud with a long, grassy climb before the starting pavement, and before the end of the fifth lap Pauwels had finally gotten around Nys and attacked the Lanbouwkrediet rider. Nys switched bikes in the pits, exacerbating Pauwels’ advantage, which had grown to almost eight seconds.

With four laps to go, the order was Pauwels, Nys seven seconds later, Stybar 39 seconds after that, and then the rapidly dissolving chase group, patches of daylight appearing between the riders like sun on a partly cloudy day. The top three appeared set, although Stybar appeared most vulnerable out of the race’s three heads of state, grimacing and tossing his bike left and right. Nys lurked throughout the lap, maybe letting Pauwels tire himself out at the head of things. The two leaders both ignored the pits, each unwilling to cede any territory to his rival.

But by the end of the eighth lap, Pauwels had begun to distance Nys, instead of the other way around, growing his gap to 16 seconds. As predicted, Stybar found himself with company as Tom Meeusen and Bart Aernouts joined the world champion, about a minute behind Kevin Pauwels. With such short laps, it seemed the leaders were always coming back to the start/finish line, and with two laps to go (after nine laps) Pauwels added another six seconds to his lead. Barring disaster, Pauwels would be taking another World Cup. A battle for third was developing between Tom Meeusen and Bart Aeronouts, as Stybar started dropping back. The chase group looked listless, no one willing to chase down the two riders battling for third.

In the end, Pauwels won easily, with Nys 40 seconds back in second. Coming onto the finishing straight, Bart Aernouts crashed right behind Tom Meeusen, trying to stay on the Telenet-Fidea rider’s wheel, allowing Meeusen to ride easily for the podium’s final step. Pauwels extends his lead in the World Cup standings over Nys, who is in second place and Stybar, who is in third.

A pleasant surprise of the day was American racer Jeremy Durrin scoring 35th and finishing on the lead lap of his first World Cup race. We’ll be catching up with him in coming days, so stay tuned!

Igorre Results 2011 Men

1Kevin PAUWELSBEL281:02:31
2Sven NYSBEL361:03:16
3Tom MEEUSENBEL241:03:30
4Bart AERNOUTSBEL301:03:37
5Zdenek STYBARCZE271:03:57
6Francis MOUREYFRA321:04:02
7Radomir SIMUNEKCZE291:04:04
9Enrico FRANZOIITA301:04:06
10Steve CHAINELFRA291:04:06
11Klaas VANTORNOUTBEL301:04:07
13Thijs VAN AMERONGENNED261:04:14
14Bart WELLENSBEL341:04:18
15Gerben DE KNEGTNED371:04:18
16Marcel MEISENGER231:04:30
17Mariusz GILPOL291:04:32
19Cristian COMINELLIITA241:05:36
20Thijs ALNED321:05:40
21Nicolas BAZINFRA291:05:46
22JosŽ Antonio HERMIDA RAMOSESP341:05:49
23Patrick VAN LEEUWENNED271:06:07
24Twan VAN DEN BRANDNED231:06:38
25Magnus DARVELLSWE301:06:54
27Elia SILVESTRIITA221:07:28
29Matthieu BOULOFRA231:07:48
31Kenneth HANSENDEN21
34Jose Antonio DIEZ ARRIOLAESP30
35Jeremy DURRINUSA24
36Mitchell HUENDERSNED24
37Joachim PARBODEN38