World Champion Zdenek Stybar carves through the sand in Oostmalle. © Bart Hazen

World Champion Zdenek Stybar carves through the sand in Oostmalle. © Bart Hazen

by Dan Seaton

Oostmalle, Belgium – On a sandy and windswept—though very fast—course, in front of a huge and enthusiastic crowd, the real racing of the 2009-10 cyclocross season concluded with the final round of the Gazet Van Antwerpen Trofee. Fans were treated to two diametrically opposed endings: in the women’s race, Marianne Vos edged out Daphny Van Den Brand for the win by barely more than a wheel, while the men’s race was a show of force, with Bart Wellens taking a solo victory, nearly a minute ahead of second place finisher Zdeněk Štybar.

Aernouts, Sweeck Take Early Victories

The day’s first two races were punctuated by dramatic, if not entirely successful comebacks. In the Juniors race, David van der Poel, who has been a force among the younger riders all season, battled back from a sleepy start that saw him lose half a minute in the first lap. Van der Poel managed to chase down a lead group featuring Laurens and Diether Sweeck, Gianni Vermeersch, and, later Jens Adams. Though van der Poel reached the front, he couldn’t match a resurgent Laurens Sweeck, who told reporters afterwards that he felt he had finally recovered from an illness that has weakened him since the Koksijde World Cup.  Sweeck took the win, six seconds ahead of van der Poel and 12 seconds ahead of Vermeersh.

Jim Aernouts celebrates as he crosses the line in Oostmalle. © Bart Hazen

Jim Aernouts celebrates as he crosses the line in Oostmalle. © Bart Hazen

In the Under-23 race, Arnoud Jouffroy, celebrating his twentieth birthday today, grabbed a big lead, barely a lap into the race.  But behind him a trio of riders, Jim Aernouts, Lars van der Haar, and Kenneth Van Compernolle were bearing down.  The three became four when they reached the early leader with a few laps to go, but, after his hard early effort, the young French rider Jouffroy couldn’t match the other three and found himself dropped during the last lap.  That left Aernouts to take a sprint victory over van der Haar, with Compernolle grabbing the final spot on the podium.

One notable absence was Tom Meeusen, who had locked up the GVA Trofee title before the race even started and, as a result, elected to take the start in the Elite race, where he eventually finished eighth.

Vos Wins While Van Den Brand Takes the Trofee

By the time the women lined up for the start the sandy soil had become rutted and packed, leaving racers to choose between riding single file in the one fast lane of packed sand or take their chances in the slow, loose dusty stuff on the edges of the course. Opportunities to pass would be at a premium, and Van Den Brand, who came into today’s race with a very good shot at the overall title despite being ranked third in the general classification, was quick to capitalize.

Van Den Brand shot off the front midway through the first lap, while her main rival for much of the season, Marianne Vos, was still struggling to make her way to the front of the race.  Vos, picking her way through traffic, first reached a group of Sanne Cant, Sanne Van Paassen, and Hanka Kupfernagel, but remained with them for only a few minutes before going after Van Den Brand alone. The two Dutchwomen made contact a little before the half way point of the race, but Vos didn’t slow down, and quickly had amassed a significant lead.

For a time it looked like Vos would simply cruise to victory, but she dropped her chain just outside of the pits on the fourth lap. By the time the World Champion was rolling again, Van Den Brand had regained the lead. This time, however, Van Den Brand’s gap was already slim, and Vos rejoined her by the end of the lap.

Daphny Van den Brand and Marianne Vos find a good line through the sand. © Bart Hazen

Daphny Van den Brand and Marianne Vos find a good line through the sand. © Bart Hazen

While the two leaders traded attacks, there was drama further back in the field as well. British National Champion Helen Wyman, who was second in the overall standings, one point ahead of Van Den Brand and two behind leader Pavla Havlikova, going into the day, managed to connect with the chase group of Van Paassen, Cant, and Kupfernagel.  A good ride by Wyman would give her a shot at the top step of the series podium if Van Den Brand faltered at all. But a hard effort by Van Den Brand’s teammate Van Paassen fractured the group, and Wyman dangled while Belgian Champion Sanne Cant made a move to seal up the podium.

In the end, Van Den Brand couldn’t quite match Vos, and had to settle for second—though second was good enough to hand her the series victory—while Cant took third overall, good enough to vault her into a tie with Wyman, who finished sixth, for the second spot in the final series standings, with Cant’s better finish deciding the tie. Van Paassen and Kupfernagel rounded out the top five, while American—and Cyclocross Magazine contributor—Christine Vardaros finished 22nd.

Women’s racing in Europe still has neither the profile nor fan-base of its counterpart in the United States, but Vardaros pointed out that the GVA Trofee’s work in promoting women’s racing was paying off with more exciting races and bigger crowds as well. “It was fun,” said Vardaros. “There were lots of spectators at this one.  Even though I didn’t win the race, I felt like I had one of the biggest cheering sections. It’s really special.”

Vos, who ends her season the same way it started—with a win—said she was thrilled at how things went for her this year.  “It was my best season ever,” she told Cyclocross Magazine. “From my first race that I rode in Holland, and then the week after were the European Championships, it’s been an awesome season. With three World Cup wins, the World Championship, and individual wins it’s just been great.”

Van Den Brand was pleased, if a little less sanguine than her younger countrywoman. “I think I have to be happy [with my season],” she said. “I’m Dutch champion. I won the World Cup. I’m second in the European Championships and third at the World Championships. So I think it’s good, but I had two more goals as well. I wanted to win the European Championships, but I had problems with my asthma, and at the World Championships I fell in Roubaix, so I had a lot of problems. So I’m a little bit disappointed, but I’m a winner, it’s been a good season.”

Wellens Thrills with Solo Win, Nys Claims GVA Title

Erwin Vervecken is hanging up the cross bike. © Bart Hazen

Erwin Vervecken is hanging up the cross bike. © Bart Hazen

In the men’s race, Bart Wellens capped a difficult season—missing significant time recovering from a serious illness at the beginning of the season and riding inconsistently after his return—with his first victory in a major race.  Wellens took advantage of a slowdown in the pace at the front just after an intermediate sprint at the end of the race’s second lap, attacking just after the race left the road and quickly opened a big gap. Driven by a huge and supportive crowd, Wellens simply rode away from the field, eventually racking up a lead of nearly a minute.

“In the start I was on the wheel of Nys and I saw that Zdeněk was on the attack and had a gap,” Wellens told Cyclocross Magazine. “I knew that they were going to sprint on the second lap for the points, so I thought I’d stay on Nys’ wheel and just after the sprint, if they stopped, then I would go on the attack. And it was just like my plan and I did it and they waited and waited and after one lap they said, ‘You have thirty seconds,’ so I was full gas to the finish.”

Just as Wellens said, the first two laps belonged to his teammate Štybar, who stormed off the front just after the gun and grabbed a quick five second lead that he held for most of the first two laps.  But behind him an unusually large chase group headed by Sven Nys, who led the general classification going into the day, was unwilling to let a contender for the overall standing go unchallenged off the front.  Nys reached Štybar in time to battle for the points, but the pair slowed just after crossing the line, setting up Wellens’ decisive attack.

One notable absence from the early action was Niels Albert, who was locked in a tie for second place with Štybar before the race, but fell out of his pedal on the start line and came on to the course in almost last place. Albert battled his way to the front of the race, almost reaching the lead group at one point, before a broken saddle forced him to pit and ended his chances for a shot at the podium.

“I missed my pedal and must have been the last on the road,” said Albert afterwards. “But then I could quickly move up and was getting close, but I broke my saddle and it was all over. No, I won’t lie awake tonight—tonight we go for some good food and then tomorrow is another day.”

With Wellens’ lead secure and nobody from the chase group either able or willing to take a gamble up front, the race stayed together, though a few riders faded from the lead under the strain of the hard pace. Then, a few meters before the final lap, Klaas Vantornout shot off the front. Vantornout roared across the line, apparently miscalculating how many laps were remaining and believing he could steal a second place finish with the surge. But the lanky Belgian quickly realized his mistake, gesturing in frustration before simply continuing on alone.

Only Štybar managed to reach him and, while Wellens took high fives from his pit crew up ahead, the two dueled for much of the lap before Vantornout went down hard, apparently hitting his head on a post on the side of the course and Štybar rode into him. While Štybar collected himself in time to join Nys, Sven Vanthourenhout, and Kevin Pauwels just as they came around him, Vantornout rolled around on the side of the course, confused and in pain, his bike facing backwards, halfway across the course.

Štybar, bleeding from his leg and finger, managed to claw his way back to the front of the chase in time to hold of Kevin Pauwels in a sprint for second.  Sven and Dieter Vanthourenhout finished fourth and fifth, while Nys, with the overall victory all but assured, rode a careful last lap and finished sixth.  Štybar’s second place finish helped him secure second overall as well, making the GVA Trofee the only major series the Czech rider did not win this year.  Nys Albert, who crossed the line in tenth, ended up third in the overall standings.

American Jonathan Page was hampered by a less than stellar start and, though he mixed it up in the middle of the race, faded some in the final laps to finish 21st.  After the race Page said he was happy to be nearly finished with a long season. “I was out of gas,” he told Cyclocross Magazine. “The race was pretty much over after a few laps. So I was just riding, trying not to fall down.”

Assessing his season, Page said he had mixed feelings, “I did ok, I wouldn’t say it was an extremely good season, but I wouldn’t say it was bad. It was better than last year, but I’ve had enough now.”

Wellens, on the other hand, said he considered the season a success. “Last week I won in Eecklo, and I was surprised to win one race this season,” he said. “So it was a good year from me, because I had the disease in the beginning, so one victory for me was ok. But now, I won the last official race, all the good riders were here.  It was amazing. I live not even five kilometers from here, so there were lots of people and they were yelling, yelling. With that, you can ride one or two k’s harder. The feeling that everybody was yelling was amazing.”

For Sven Nys, who struggled through one of his most difficult seasons in a long time, the GVA Trofee victory was a relatively rare high point. Nys has dominated the major series in recent years, sweeping every World Cup, Superprestige, and the GVA Trofee since the 2004-05 season, but he missed both the World Cup and Superprestige this year due to both physical and technical problems.

“I think the World Cup was difficult because my first month was not good,” Nys told Cyclocross Magazine. “There were two or three races for the World Cup then, so it was not easy to win the overall ranking. In the Superprestige, I think that if I didn’t have the materiaal problems in Diegem then I could win that overall ranking. But yeah, that’s racing and it’s bad luck. But what I’ve done in the GVA Trofee was perfect. I feel that I was the strongest overall and I’m really happy with this victory.”

‘Cross returns for two final encores with the indoor Cyclocross Masters race in Hasselt on Wednesday, and a farewell ride for Erwin Vervecken, who will retire after this season, on Saturday. Full results below the photos.

Photo Gallery – U23 Men and Elite Women

Photo Gallery – Elite Men

Full Results:

Elite Men:

Rank Name Nat. Age* Result
1 Bart WELLENS BEL 32 1:01:44
2 Zdenek STYBAR CZE 25 1:02:43
3 Kevin PAUWELS BEL 26 1:02:43
4 Sven VANTHOURENHOUT BEL 29 1:02:47
5 Dieter VANTHOURENHOUT BEL 25 1:02:49
6 Sven NYS BEL 34 1:02:51
7 Tom MEEUSEN BEL 22 1:02:52
8 Gerben DE KNEGT NED 35 1:02:53
9 Bart AERNOUTS BEL 28 1:02:53
10 Niels ALBERT BEL 24 1:03:18
11 Erwin VERVECKEN BEL 38 1:03:26
12 Eddy VAN IJZENDOORN NED 25 1:03:26
13 Thijs AL NED 30 1:03:32
14 Radomir SIMUNEK CZE 27 1:03:45
15 Christian HEULE SUI 35 1:03:45
16 Marco BIANCO ITA 28 1:03:45
17 Wilant VAN GILS NED 31 1:04:08
18 Thijs VAN AMERONGEN NED 24 1:04:13
19 Philipp WALSLEBEN GER 23 1:04:18
20 Petr DLASK CZE 34 1:04:18
21 Jonathan PAGE USA 34 1:04:18
22 Ben BERDEN BEL 35 1:04:49
23 Rob PEETERS BEL 25 1:05:04
24 Jan VERSTRAETEN BEL 32 1:05:22
25 Bart VERSCHUEREN BEL 24 1:05:31
26 Jan SOETENS BEL 26 1:05:44
27 Patrick VAN LEEUWEN NED 25 1:06:00
28 Tim VAN NUFFEL BEL 29 1:06:24
29 Stijn HUYS BEL 24 1:06:52
30 Sten RAEYMAKERS BEL 32 1:07:04
31 Joachim PARBO DEN 36 1:07:09
32 Gianni DENOLF BEL 23 1:07:14
33 Martin ZLAMALIK CZE 28 1:07:16
34 Stijn PENNE BEL 27 1:07:30
35 Quentin BERTHOLET BEL 23 1:08:26
38 Ken Smets BEL 28