Martin Bina, shown here at the 2010 World Championships, took the best win of his career today at Hoogerheide © Dan Seaton

Martin Bina, shown here at the 2010 World Championships, took the best win of his career today at Hoogerheide © Dan Seaton

HOOGERHEIDE, NETHERLANDS – As flurries of snow swirled around the racers and frozen ground saw the best riders in the world crashing as their bikes disappeared beneath them, Czech racer Martin Bina (CEZ Cyklo Team Tabor) had the greatest victory of his pro career with a dominating show of riding on the ice.

Dutchman Lars van der Haar (Rabobank-Giant), racing in front of his home crowd in his new national champion jersey, put on a passionate chase but ran out of course before closing to Bina, and took second. Swiss racer Simon Zahner (EKZ) held off Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) for third, making this the first World Cup this 2012/2013 season to not have a Belgian on the podium.

In the battle for the World Cup title, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) looked positioned to steal the top spot from Niels Albert (BCKP-Powerplus) as he launched a late attack as Albert began to fade, but a dropped chain quickly put an end to any hope the small Belgian had. Albert kept his lead and has now won the World Cup overall title, followed by Pauwels and then Nys.

“It was a difficult race,” said Bina. “Very technical and fast. It is the most important victory of my career.”

“I made a few mistakes and they were ultimately decisive,” said van der Haar, via Sporza. “I could have followed in the slipstream of Pauwels, but when his chain ran into trouble, it was all over. Only Pauwels and I went full in pursuit of Bina. Simunek wouldn’t chase his compatriot, and Albert raced for the purpose of the World Cup points. Pity.”

“The smallest error was punished today,” said Pauwels. “Unfortunately, it happened to me in the last round.”

Whether his attack would have been enough to secure the World Cup overall is uncertain, but Pauwels was quick to point out that the day’s win belonged to Bina. “There was no underestimation of Bina. The Czech was the best pusher here.”

“In the end I lost the wheel of Pauwels,” said Albert. “Yet I won the World Cup. I had luck on my side; that happens. I’ve already had my bad luck in this World Cup.”

“I never went for the win,” said Nys. “I do not know where it was lacking today, but I piled on the errors and lost too much time.”

The usually technically gifted Nys struggled often on the course, crashing on his first lap and struggling with his lines throughout. “I had no confidence. The fear of falling was always there. My condition is not bad, but not really great. Today I did not count for the victory. I’m mad at myself.”

Czechs Happy in the Snow

The freezing conditions came suddenly to the Netherlands, giving this weekend’s racing a familiar look to anyone at the US Nationals in Verona, Wisconsin. On many racer’s minds was the consequences of a misstep on the icy conditions – not only might a slip cost a placement in the race, but, as Nys stated before the start: “Dangerous course, best not to mess up chances for Worlds.” Underscoring that fact was the absence at the start line of newly-crowned Belgian national champion Klaas Vantornout, who crashed hard on the frozen ruts in yesterday’s C2 Kasteelcross Zonnebeke, won by Tom Meeusen, injuring his left leg. “There is a deep bruise,” Vantornout said after the race, “and I need to visit the emergency room to see if I broke anything.”

For some, however, these conditions were as familiar as their mother’s voice, and Radomir Simunek wasted no time showing that the Czech riders know how to handle a little frozen ground. As other riders slid awkwardly around the opening lap – most visibly Sven Nys, who, on the 180 degree running corner that proved one of the most treacherous features of the course, lost both bike and legs as he came slapping down onto the ground – Simunek led the charge with compatriot Martin Bina close behind.

A Race of Nickels and Dimes

As with the women’s race, the technical nature of the course kept riders from simply powering away, and it soon became clear that this would be a race of mistakes, of who could make the least and recover the quickest from those that were unavoidable. As Pauwels took over from Simunek, a small group began to form at the front, including Bina, Jim Aernouts and Simon Zahner. Rob Peeters led the chase group, which contained Albert, van der Haar and Nys, until he slid out on the slick and solid runup and was never seen again near the front.

As Nys appeared to languish towards the rear of the chase group, Albert took over chase duties heading into the second lap. Nys again slid out on the 180 turn, this time clearly frustrated as he waved other riders by and slowly found his footing. Three laps into the race, Albert made contact with the lead group, latching on to Zahner’s wheel as behind him van der Haar made chase only a few seconds back, pulling Fluckiger and Nys as Aernouts faded off the front group. Francis Mourey, finding his legs, began making his way toward the first chase group.

With seven laps to go, as the leaders shook out their hands against the biting cold, Van der Haar launched out of the chase group and by six to go had bridged the gap, while the chase behind fell to 14 seconds. Nys, sitting mid-group, seemed content with his luck.  At the front, Simunek had taken up duties and pushed the pace hard enough to momentarily split the group in two, with Pauwels and Albert on his wheel and Zahner, Bina and van der Haar chasing.

Anybody’s Game

With the technical challenges of the course keeping the riders mostly together, the race continued with six leaders at the front, sometimes led by Pauwels, sometimes by van der Haar, sometimes by Simunek. Of the leaders, van der Haar looked most hungry for the win, with Albert and Pauwels more concerned with keeping tabs on each other, and Simunek and Bina – not usually seen in the front group so late in the game – holding their cards close.

As he’s done in many a race, it was at five to go that Nys seemed to finally reach over and turn the snooze off his alarm clock, shake the sleep out of his legs, and begin to race his bike. The Kaanibal van Baal slipped out of the chase group and spent the next three laps carefully, but steadily, working his way up to the front, where Niels Albert had begun to dangle off the back as van der Haar began eking out a gap at the front. With Pauwels just in front of Albert, the World Cup series leaders were now all sitting together – if they finished in this order, there would be no change in the standings. Pauwels needed to take one of the top two spots, while keeping Albert off the podium, if her were to take over the lead.

As Bina took over at the front, Albert mistimed his descent of the icy, dangerous drop that saw some of the female racers sliding on their backs rather than ride and ran himself into the inflated barrier at the bottom, stopping cold and losing contact with Pauwels and the lead group.

Bina Takes the Rest to School

Of all the racers, Bina looked most comfortable on the ice: on the 180 turn that saw racers hit the deck each lap, and riders as gifted as Nys twinkle-toe gingerly around the bend, Bina took it at near full speed each lap, jumping off his bike and two-foot drifting as if he were a sock-wearing kid playing on the wood floor of his living room before smoothly rounding the corner and taking off again. Bina’s smoothness in the turns helped him open a small gap over a chasing van der Haar, who nearly closed it before slightly botching the descent that caught Albert out.

And, as the riders came back into the finishing stretch with three to go, it was Simunek who found himself at the front of the chase. Unwilling to pull the rest up to his countryman, Simunek instead sat up, allowing Bina another few seconds of room between him and his chasers. The move also allowed Albert, and then Nys, to grab onto the tail of the chase.

Even Bina’s skill on the ice, however, did not make him immune to crashes, and the Czech rider slid out on a corner in an impressive full-body, one-hand-on-the-bike spin that saw him back up and on his way nearly as quickly as spectators realized he had gone down. Perhaps even more spectacular was a 360 degree spin by Zahner, who managed to stay upright during his tour of the course behind him. The slide stopped Pauwels cold, allowing Nys to sneak around him and slot into fourth position behind van der Haar and Simunek.

With two to go, Bina had only seven precious seconds to van der Haar’s pursuit. With so many riders at the front, both the day’s win and the World Cup series overall remained excitedly up for grabs and Pauwels, for one, knew it. As van der Haar opened up a gap in his chase, Pauwels attacked out of the remainder of the group and bridged up to the Dutchman, leaving both Nys and Albert looking despondent and uncomfortable on the ice. As the two riders powered along, Pauwels took over heading into the descent and looked primed to launch another burst of speed. The descent, however, knocked his chain off, and rather than explode into the series lead, Pauwels could only shake his head at the return of the bad luck that marred his early season. As he got off his bike, Albert shot by. Nys shot by. Mourey shot by.  That was it for Pauwels, and there was no fight left for him to wage.

With the World Cup series thus decided, excitement returned to the day’s win, as van der Haar made a passionate chase of Bina’s passionate lead. With a lap to go, only 11 seconds separated the two, and the question then was whether the Dutch sprinter could make up just enough on the course to pull Bina into range as they entered the pavement. The Czech rider knew, however, that he was minutes away from the best win of his career, and all but flew across the course, riding as flawless a lap as possible given the terrain, and entered the final straight with enough cushion that van der Haar’s sprint was neutralized. Bina raised his frozen hands, enjoying the moment as van der Haar had to be happy with second, also one of his best finishes of the season and a clear indication that he is entering dangerous form as our attention now turns to the World Championships in Louisville.

Simon Zahner held off a final burst of effort by Nys to take third, making this the most international podium of the 2013 World Cup season, and the first in which a Belgian did not occupy the top step.

2013 World Cup Hoogerheide – Elite Men Results

1Martin BINACZE1:02:17
2Lars VAN DER HAARNED1:02:24
3Simon ZAHNERSUI1:02:28
4Sven NYSBEL1:02:39
5Niels ALBERTBEL1:02:44
6Radomir SIMUNEKCZE1:02:44
7Francis MOUREYFRA1:02:50
8Kevin PAUWELSBEL1:02:59
9Julien TARAMARCAZSUI1:03:03
10Lukas FLÜCKIGERSUI1:03:06
11Marcel MEISENGER1:03:16
12Jim AERNOUTSBEL1:03:27
13Marcel WILDHABERSUI1:03:32
14Mariusz GILPOL1:03:34
15Bart AERNOUTSBEL1:03:57
17Marco Aurelio FONTANAITA1:04:24
18Thijs ALNED1:04:28
19Martin ZLAMALIKCZE1:04:29
20Enrico FRANZOIITA1:04:30
21Twan VAN DEN BRANDNED1:04:31
23Niels WUBBENNED1:04:39
24Gerben DE KNEGTNED1:04:46
25Philipp WALSLEBENGER1:05:25
26Ondrej BAMBULACZE1:05:31
27Bart WELLENSBEL1:05:45
28Lubomir PETRUSCZE1:05:51
29Patrick VAN LEEUWENNED1:05:58
30Guillaume PERROTFRA1:06:13
31Andreas MOSERSUI1:06:55
32Ole QUASTGER1:07:03
33Rob PEETERSBEL1:07:17
34Ian FIELDGBR1:07:18
36Magnus DARVELLSWE1:07:33
37Jaime JUNCALESP1:07:55
38Arnaud JOUFFROYFRA1:08:05
45Alexander REVELLNZL