by David Evans
HAMME-ZOGGE, BELGIUM — Reigning World Champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step) emerged triumphant from Sunday’s heavyweight slugfest that was the Hamme-Zogge Superprestige. Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) managed to outsprint Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) for second, and a visibly drained Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) rolled over the line for fourth.
The Hamme-Zogge course was flat and with few obvious complications. This ensured that for most of the race, the field of 47 riders could stay in contact, if not in contention.
Kevin Pauwels took the holeshot, shadowed by Stybar. Pauwels drilled the front of the race, causing daylight to appear between many of the wheels strung out behind him. He and Stybar had a gap of a few seconds as they passed through the start/finish area for the first time, although Niels Albert ensured that this was not allowed to grow.
Stybar then took over from Pauwels for the start of the second lap. He, too, tried to create problems for his competitors by driving from the front. As with Pauwels, Stybar managed to cause some minor gaps but nothing that stuck.
This set the pattern for much of the race. A leading pack of around ten, including Bart Wellens, Tom Meeusen (both Telenet-Fidea), Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), Bart Aernouts (Giant-Rabobank), Sven Nys and Niels Albert, traded huge turns at the front to little avail. Lap after lap the field would absorb the slugs and clouts from the lead rider, regroup on the concrete safety of the start/finish line, and then allow another rider to try his luck.
Kevin Pauwels proved to be the launching pad for Stybar’s escape. Pauwels could be seen checking his bike during his fifth lap tenure as race leader, but stayed up front until the beginning of the concrete. As he moved over to allow the next rider through, Stybar made his way to the front. And then off the front. And then into the distance.
Less than two minutes into the sixth lap, Stybar had an advantage so large that the TV cameras were forced to linger over empty tracks of grass while they waited for the chasers to come into view. By the end of the sixth lap, he had 21 seconds, by the end of the seventh he had stretched this out to 30.
It was immediately clear that a spirited resistance would be needed to counter Stybar’s move. Wellens, Nys, Pauwels and Albert traded turns, before Nys and Albert forged ahead. Pauwels formed a small chase group with Bart Aernouts, ditching his companion and bridging up to Nys and Albert at the start of the tenth lap.
On that same lap Stybar found himself with enough time to wave and smile at the crowd as he crested the large flyover. He then changed bikes, took the bell and still had a 30 second advantage.
Behind him, the race for second place heated up. Nys sat up and directed his competitors to take a turn. Kevin Pauwels took up the challenge, but a visibly tired Niels Albert dropped a few bike lengths.
Stybar crossed the line with plenty of time to celebrate, Pauwels held off Nys by the narrowest of margins after leading him out for the last kilometer of the race, and Albert nervously checked over his shoulder for a late-charging Bart Aernouts. After the race, a pleased Stybar said, “Everyone tried [to break away] in the race, so I went too and was directly alone. The last two rounds I thought I couldn’t hold it. But I could see during the race where the chase group was so I could monitor my effort. Also the applause in the last lap helped me to keep the gap. To have 15-20,000 people cheering for you — that was thoroughly enjoyable — I won’t forget that.”
Sven Nys was diplomatic in defeat, saying, “I couldn’t have won here this year. For me, third place was the maximum [I could finish] on a road race where road tactics were in play. There was not enough ’cross; not enough to my advantage. In a race like this, you could lose your ranking. But I took one point back on Neils so I am happy. And one week after Ronse where I had that bad race, I had probably one of the best days of the season today.”
Bart Wellens, trying to regain his early season form, said he was happy with his seventh place finish today after suffering from an intestinal virus all week. The other Bart, Aernouts, finished one spot higher than Wellens, but lamented, “I wasn’t strong enough to make a difference today.”
Results after gallery.
Bart Hazen’s Gallery:
Brief Results: Elite Men
|13||Thijs VAN AMERONGEN||NED||26||1:05:11|
|19||Twan VAN DEN BRAND||NED||23||1:05:25|
|20||Kenneth VAN COMPERNOLLE||BEL||24||1:05:25|
|23||Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN||NED||27||1:06:05|
|26||Tom VAN DEN BOSCH||BEL||27||1:06:13|
|36||Florian LE CORRE||FRA||27||1:08:15|