It's been more than a decade since Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) last won a cyclo-cross race in Zolder, on the famous former Formula 1 car circuit. During the last few years, he's been beaten by fast men like Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Lars Boom (Rabobank), but this year Nys was in total control in a rainy edition on Wednesday afternoon. After a long duel with world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), the 36-year-old Belgian champion punched it halfway through the final lap. A little later, Albert crossed the line in second place.
"Winning here hasn't always been evident for me. I tried it many times but always missed out. Today it worked out," Nys toldSporza.
Thanks to his third World Cup win, Nys tied Albert in the World Cup points standings but takes on the leader's jersey. Third-placed Kevin Pauwels only managed a fifth place in Zolder, so he lost lost valuable overall points on his two rivals on Wednesday afternoon.
Pauwels completely missed his start and by the time he entered the top-10, the favourites were gone. During the second of nine laps, Albert upped the pace up front. Nys needed some time to bridge up the world champion but eventually he closed the gap. The duo exchanged accelerations but neither got away from the other. Together they hit the bell lap, with the first chasers - including Pauwels - trailing by more than half a minute.
Nys aggressively hopped back on the bike after an off-camber section. He threw himself into a technical descent and stormed on to the victory. When asked whether he had risked his life on the final descent, Nys described how he felt about the section. "I knew what I did. With the rain, it was getting harder every lap, but I had a good feeling. I tried to get the gap on the downhill. That technical zone was in the last part of the track. For me, it's better like this; otherwise it's a sprint. Normally, I can win a sprint against Niels but you never know. It's better to have a gap before the sprint."
Albert wasn't able to close on Nys during the final lap. He was humble in his defeat. "I opted to hop off the bike more quickly than Nys did [on the off-camber section]. After the descent, it was over, and I let go of it. I don't want to use it as an excuse but yesterday I was ill. During the first half [of the race], I was feeling great, but then I lost all energy. Anyway, Nys is the deserved win," Albert told Sporza.
Half a minute behind the duo, it was former world champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) who won the battle for third place. In the final lap, he got the better of his compatriot Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus) and Pauwels. Simunek was fourth, and Pauwels was fifth.
Stybar was pleased with the outcome of the race. "I was hoping for a place in the top-10, so I'm very happy with this. Those two were too fast for me. Already after the second lap, I knew it. The world championships? No, I chose the road and by the time they race in Louisville, I'll be doing my first race on the road. Maybe it'll hurt at that moment, but I have other challenges ahead of me which are special too," Stybar told Sporza.
The next World Cup round will be held in Rome, Italy, on January 6, 2013. The World Cup final happens two weeks later in Hoogerheide, Netherlands. For Albert, it was clear a big duel with Nys lays ahead for the overall title. "We're starting from scratch. Kevin still has a chance, but the gap became bigger again today. Rome will be a lottery between the two of us. In Hoogerheide, I tend to go very well but that's where the battle will be decided," Albert said.
Since Nys took over the World Cup lead from world champion Niels Albert, a debate within the Belgian team will probably come to an end. Jan Denuwelaere (Style & Concept) won a spectacular race in Essen last weekend, but wasn't featuring in the Belgian selection. Fellow Belgians who weren't performing at the front of the latest races were feeling the pressure and there was the possibility that one rider was going to lose his spot on the team. However, since Albert lost the World Cup jersey to Nys today, the Belgian team has one more spot for the next World Cup in Rome. It highly likely that Denuwelaere will be added to the Belgian team's selection.