by Dan Seaton

Tervuren, Belgium – A dusting of snow fell in the woods of the Park van Tervuren overnight, lending some late holiday cheer to this race on the outskirts of Brussels. The last of a busy series of races that spanned the Christmas season, the Fidea Cyclocross Tervuren was a final dramatic flourish for Belgian Cyclocross before racers from across Europe head home for their respective national Championships. On a mostly frozen, fast track that wound through the forest near Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa, Zdeněk Štybar and Daphny Van Den Brand each rode solo breakaways to decisive wins.

Tervuren’s course, a 2.5 kilometer long set of nested loops, featured a good mix of asphalt, unpaved forest roads, grass and winding singletrack, most of which was frozen hard. But there was also a healthy dose of slick mud, half-frozen puddles, and contorted climbs and descents through the trees.

With a race across the Dutch border in Sint Michielsgestel drawing riders as well, the race in Tervuren saw slightly depleted fields for both men and women. Among the notable absences today were women’s World Champion Marianne Vos and, on the men’s side, Rabobank racers Bart Aernouts and Gerben De Knegt along with teammate and Dutch National Champion Lars Boom, who made his return to cyclocross after sitting out all of the first part of the season.

Van Den Brand Crushes the Competition

When a crash broke apart the women’s field early in the first lap, a group of three—Belgian Sanne Cant, Dutchwoman Daphy Van Den Brand, and British racer Nikki Harris—emerged at the head of the race. The lead trio went free when Cant accelerated, before Van Den Brand took over at the front.

Some ten bike lengths back, the three leaders were pursued by Czech racer Pavla Havlikova and Belgian Joyce Vanderbeken, but Vanderbeken ran into trouble on one of the several slick, mucky turns, which disrupted the pair’s rhythm. If the break in concentration slowed the chase, reduced pressure from behind did nothing to slow the three leaders, who continued to increase the tempo up front.

But Van Den Brand punched the pace as the three hit a short but steep, slick climb that would prove important throughout the day. Neither Harris nor Cant could respond to the Dutch Champion’s acceleration, and Van Den Brand easily rode away and into a place at the top of the podium, crossing the finish line 1:40 ahead of Harris, who took second away from Cant by 20 seconds. The chasers behind the top three managed to stay close—if only to Harris, Cant and each other—and Vanderbeken claimed fourth, ten seconds ahead of Havlikova. American Christine Vardaros finished 13th.

“I hit a gap easily,” Van Den Brand told reporters after the race, “but it was hard later: after the second lap I was suffering from the cold, and had some sore muscles.”

Cant, who rode with Harris for the whole race before she faded in the last lap, told reporters she was recovering from a week of illness. “I was sick all week,” she said, “and just played in the final lap. For the Belgian Championships I’m not worried, although tomorrow I’m still headed to the doctor.”

Štybar Storms to Victory

In the men’s race it was American Jonathan Page, perhaps motivated by his terrible luck yesterday, who shot off the start line and grabbed the hole shot, leading Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout as the course wound through the woods in the early part of the lap. But Nys and Vanthourenhout took over as the course plunged down out of the woods and towards the pits, while Page held on to third place behind them.

Nys surged on the same climb that Van Den Brand used to make her escape in the Women’s race, earning the two leaders a gap of several seconds over the rest of the Page-led race. As the field made its second trip through the pits in the first lap, Petr Dlask came to the front of the chase, but Vanthourenhout and Nys continued to extend their lead as the race reached the end of the first lap.

Through the second lap, Page and three Telenet-Fidea riders— Petr Dlask, Kevin Pauwels, and Zdeněk Štybar—traded duties at the front of the chase. But Nys continued to hammer away, and though at one point Dlask managed to gain a bit of a gap over the rest of the chasers, neither could make any progress towards the two leaders, who led by almost ten seconds at the end of the second lap.

The two leaders threaded around the roller coaster course, which twisted and undulated through the snowy forest. The frozen track kept the speed high, but the chase benefitted more than the leaders, and the trio of Telenet-Fidea riders, working together behind them, began to close the gap in the middle of lap three.

When Vanthourenhout caught his foot on the course barrier as he and Nys made their way down the twisting descent into the pits, he slowed, allowed Pauwels to connect with him, and a group of eight converged at the front of the race. Nys continued to lead with Vanthourenhout on his wheel, then Pauwels, Štybar, Dlask, Niels Albert, Francis Mourey, and Under-23 powerhouse Tom Meeusen behind them.

Several seconds back, Page rode together with Martin Zlamalik and Rob Peeters. Peeters, along with Meeusen, made five Telenet-Fidea riders crowded into the top ten of a race that shared their sponsor’s name.

Nys, who controlled the race through several laps, set a brutal pace, fracturing the group of eight. Only Vanthourenhout, Pauwels, and Štybar could match him, while Albert and the rest slid backwards. Štybar, who was momentarily left on his own as the lead group broke apart, was able to charge back into the race. He reached the Nys group easily and immediately continued up the track on his own, opening a big gap within seconds.

While Štybar was riding away, the rest of the group reconverged again, Nys still at the front. But by the time the suddenly inspired Czech reached the grass on the back of the course, he led by ten seconds.

In the chase, organization broke down when Nys lost his position at the front of the group after he pitted just before the end of the lap with five to go. By the end of that same lap, Štybar led by 25 seconds. Without Nys to do the work at the front, Niels Albert took up the charge, leading Tom Meeusen, who, with a teammate up the road, had little reason to take up the chase himself.

As the sun began to dip lower and lower in the sky, Albert and Meeusen closed in on Štybar significantly. But Meeusen lost Albert’s wheel when he fell on the descent into the pits, and Albert was left to chase Meeusen’s teammate all alone. Meeusen pitted, then joined the chase group further back.

With three to go, Štybar’s lead over Albert had shrunk to just a handful of seconds, but the Czech champion didn’t let up. Albert, forced to dismount on a short rise in the course, found his pedals clogged with ice after remounting, and had to slow in order to try to clear them. Visibly frustrated as he saw all of his work to nearly reach Štybar undone, Albert banged his fist on the bars. When he reached the pits later in the lap, Albert threw his bike to the ground, took a new one, and resumed the chase. But now the gap was twenty seconds, and as Albert made his way through lapped traffic, Štybar sailed away.

Albert, absorbed by the chase group, took over pacesetting at the front of the chase, and again the bunch fractured. Albert pulled Nys and Pauwels free, but pitted again and lost them, connecting with Mourey and Meeusen behind. But on the same tricky climb that played a decisive role throughout the day, Mourey stumbled while Albert rode cleanly, and again Albert was alone, trailing Nys and Pauwels while Mourey and Meeusen chased from behind.

Heading into the last lap, Štybar led Nys and Pauwels by 25 seconds and Mourey, Albert, and Meeusen by 40. The leader tore around the course, while Nys attacked Pauwels, looking for a second place finish alone. Though Pauwels poured himself into the chase, he simply couldn’t match Nys, who continued to extend his gap, even while Štybar rode solo towards the finish.

Štybar tore through the snowy, sunlit woods and towards a solo victory, finally slowing as he reached the road to throw his hands in the air and brush off his jersey. Nys came around the corner just as Štybar crossed the line, and rode into second behind him. Pauwels took third, while Meeusen outsprinted Albert—who conceded with a wave of the hand before the two reached the finish line—for fourth.

Page, who rode so well early in the race, was caught by Enrico Franzoi late in the race, and finished 11th. Jamey Driscoll took 16th in his best race since coming to Europe in December. Jeremy Powers was 27th.

“I wanted to win one week before the Championship to once again have that good feeling,” a very disappointed Niels Albert told reporters when the race was over. “But the bad luck decided otherwise.”

Albert, who won in Tervuren last year, said the only good news for him was that his legs were good. “I reduced the gap to Štybar from 25 to four seconds,” he said. “But then I had problems with ice in my pedals. It’s frustrating, really a shit feeling. That I threw down my bike in the pit was a sign of my frustration. If you’re so close to a win, it’s no fun to have to deal with such a dud.”

Nys and Pauwels in second and third were, unsurprisingly, happier with their results.

“I can only win the Belgian Championships with a super day,” Pauwels told reporters. “Today I was very good in the straights and corners, I just had some problems with my eyes from the cold.”

“This was a really tough ‘cross,” said Nys. “We definitely did not ride with the handbrake on. Štybar was hard to match. I would have had to let him ride into a fall, but I don’t rate this as a loss. On the last lap I tried to do something special, and I still shook the fastest lap out of my legs.”

Štybar, for his part, said he was a not especially surprised to find himself improving this week. “This victory is no surprise to me,” he told reporters. “I’ve been feeling good recently, and this victory confirms that. At the end of a busy period this is a welcome discovery. While others are declining, it just keeps getting better for me. A week before the National Championships, this is good news.”

Štybar added that he also had trouble with his pedals. “Maybe [my problem] was less obvious and time consuming that Albert’s,” he said. “So I refused to accept that I only won thanks to Niels’ misfortune.”

Full Results:

Fidea Cyclocross Classic Tervuren
(Belgian unless marked otherwise)

Elite Men (57 starters)

  1. Zdenek Stybar (Cze/Telenet-Fidea) 1:01:42
  2. Sven Nys 0:06
  3. Kevin Pauwels 0:18
  4. Tom Meeusen 0:27
  5. Niels Albert
  6. Françis Mourey (Fra) 0:35
  7. Petr Dlask (Cze) 0:49
  8. Sven Vanthourenhout 1:11
  9. Enrico Franzoi (Ita) 1:36
  10. Rob Peeters 1:37
  11. Jonathan Page (USA)
  12. Vincent Baestaens 1:41
  13. Kenneth Van Compernolle 1:43
  14. Mariusz Gil (Pol) 2:13
  15. Philipp Walsleben (Dui) 2:22
  16. James Driscoll (USA) 2:26
  17. Jim Aernouts 2:47
  18. Martin Zlamalik (Cze) 2:52
  19. Arnaud Jouffroy (Fra) 2:54
  20. Robert Gavenda (Svk) 3:31
  21. Jempy Drucker (Lux) 3:34
  22. Lubomir Petrus (Cze) 3:35
  23. Wietse Bosmans 4:16
  24. Pawel Szczepaniak (Pol) 4:35
  25. Joeri Adams 4:55
  26. Bart Verschueren 4:58
  27. Jeremy Powers (USA) 5:06
  28. Ben Berden 5:20
  29. Kevin Cant 6:00
  30. Dave De Cleyn 6:24
  31. Magnus Darvell (Zwe) 6:30
  32. Sean De Bie 6:36
  33. Quentin Berholet
  34. Björn Laplez at 1 lap
  35. Jimmy Tielens
  36. Flavien Dassonville (Fra) at 2 laps
  37. Jan Van Zeebroeck: 38. Vinnie Braet
  38. Niels Wubben (Ned)
  39. Baasankhuu (Mgl) at 3 laps
  40. Naran Khangarid (Mgl)
  41. David Boucher (Fra) at 4 laps
  42. Boldbaatar (Mgl) at 5 laps
  43. Ariunbold Naranbat (Mgl)
  44. Matt Brandon (USA) at 6 laps

Women (19 starters)

  1. Daphny van den Brand (Ned) 43:42
  2. Nikki Harris (GBr) 1:40
  3. Sanne Cant 2:01
  4. Joyce Vanderbeken 2:19
  5. Pavla Havlikova (Cze) 2:29
  6. Veerle Ingels 5:57
  7. Nancy Bober6:29
  8. Nicole De Bie-Leijten 7:58
  9. Ellen Van Loy 8:17
  10. Anne Arnouts
  11. Suzie Godart (Lux)
  12. Katrien Thijs
  13. Christine Vardaros (USA)
  14. Katrien Aerts
  15. Kim Van Renterghem
  16. Laure Werner
  17. Vicki Thomas (Can)
  18. Maaike Lanssens
  19. Linda van Rijen (Ned)

Juniors (28 starters)

  1. David van der Poel (Ned) 39:43
  2. Laurens Sweeck 0:05
  3. Gianni Vermeersch 0:16
  4. Diether Sweeck 0:33
  5. Jens Vandekinderen
  6. Jens Adams 0:50
  7. Hendrik Sweeck 0:51
  8. Bart De Vocht 0:53
  9. Floris De Tier 1:13
  10. Xandro Meurisse 2:05
  11. Frederik Geerts 2:17
  12. Lorenzo Pepermans 2:57
  13. Jeroen Eyskens 3:04
  14. Jelle Cant 4:19
  15. Gabriel Chavanne (Swi) 4:23
  16. Mike Van Aken 4:25
  17. Jellen Schiettecatte 5:37
  18. Niels Ooms 5:57
  19. Stijn Gielen 6:30
  20. Olivier Vandevyver 6:44
  21. Charles-Etienne Lambert 7:30
  22. Niels Verdijck at 1 lap
  23. Robin Delanghe
  24. Bjarne De Vroe at 2 laps
  25. Arne Wynants at 3 laps

Youth (18 starters)

  1. Quentin Jauregui (Fra) 27:32
  2. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) 0:10
  3. Daan Soete 0:18
  4. Toon Wouters 1:05
  5. Matthias Van de Velde 1:20
  6. Nicolas Scheire 2:24
  7. Jochen De Vocht 3:08
  8. Jelto Veroft 4:18
  9. Michiel Van Echelpoel 4:28
  10. Gianni Quintelier 4:46
  11. Pieter Tubbax 6:49
  12. Yolan Brems
  13. Kevin Dupont 6:12
  14. Alexandre Seny 6:46
  15. Alexander Loquet 7:10
  16. Christophe Vanbellingen 8:12
  17. Jory Degheldere 9:18
  18. Sven Boschmans at 1 lap