Bart Wellens returns to the top in GvA Essen as mechanical disaster strikes Sven Nys
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bart Wellens returns to the top in GvA Essen as mechanical disaster strikes Sven Nys

by Ben Atkins at 11:46 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, Race Reports and Results
 
Telenet-Fidea veteran well placed to take advantge of old adversary’s ill luck as the mud makes a welcome return

bart wellensBart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) took his biggest victory in almost two years in the GP Rouwmoer, in Essen, Belgium – the fourth round of the Gazet van Antwepen (GvA) Trofee – after a penultimate lap disaster saw race leader Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) abandon. The two-time World champion, who has won in Essen four times before – although not since 2005 – was a few seconds behind Nys, who looked to be cruising to victory when the rear end of his bike stopped working; Wellens shot past his old adversary and soloed, problem free, to take the win.

Behind Wellens, Niels Ablert (BKCP-Powerplus) took a hard fought second place in his first race since breaking his wrist in October, while Wellens’ Telenet-Fidea Rob Peeters took third.

GvA Series leader Kevin Pauwels was spared a third straight fifth place by Nys’ misfortune and came in a less than convincing fourth.

"I’d never imagined this," said an emotional Wellens to Sporza at the finish. "I have a lot of people I must thank; too many actually.

“Teammates, training partners, the team, my family,” he elaborated, “everybody who continued to believe in me.

“Today I demonstrated that I’m still there,” he continued. “I always had good feelings, but when Nys went by me I had cramps. Suddenly he was just standing there though, and then I constantly thought ‘no accidents now, no accidents now!’”

The Essen race was to see a return to Belgian cyclocross of its biggest star: the mud. Rain in the week had transformed the course, which would have been fast and virtually dusty in previous weeks – as the majority of courses have been so far this season – into the kind of sticky quagmire that fans are given to expect. As well as the mud, which caused most riders to change bikes at least once a lap, there were several puddles and areas of standing water.

The majority of the course was ridable, however, with bikes shouldered over the manmade obstacles and hardly anywhere else.

An early showing from Vantornout and Stybar

The start of the race saw the usual early surge from Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), who, despite a challenge from World champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step), managed to pull a few seconds clear in the early corners of the first lap. Wellens and Sven Vanthourenhout (Landbouwkrediet) were in hot pursuit of the lanky rider as they hit the mud for the first time, with Albert at the head of the group behind.

Pauwels and Nys had both had a disastrous start and found themselves stuck in midfield; they both scythed their way through the pack as the race traversed the lumps and bumps of the course’s wooded section for the first time.

As Vantornout crossed the line at the end of lap one, he led Wellens – who now had Albert for company – by seven seconds. Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) was leading the main group fifteen seconds back. Wellens and Albert caught Vantornout in the first few corners of the lap, and promptly left him behind; it wasn’t long before the Sunweb-Revor rider was caught by the main group, which was now led by Nys, who had made his way to the front, and who promptly set off alone as he chased the two leaders.

In the muddy conditons, Meeusen was the only rider to be bunny-hopping the two hurdles on the course.

Nys chases the leaders down and it’s 2005 all over again

As Wellens and Albert reached the woods Nys was alost with them; perhaps sensing his old adversary’s presence though, Wellens accelerated and prevented the Kannibaal from closing the last few seconds.

Behind the battling leaders, Meeusen had pulled Pauwels and Peeters clear of the rest, but the race already seemed to be down to the three men up front.

On the line at the end of lap two, Nys was still five seconds back, but was visibly closing in on Wellens and Albert. All three passed through the pits to change their bikes and they were almost together as they emerged the other side. Both leaders were resiting the attentions of the Landbouwkrediet rider though, and he was not quite able to reach their bck wheels.

An acceleration from Pauwels behind them saw Meeusen dropped from the chase group, but the GvA series leader was showing no signs of closing the gap to the three up front.

A brief acceleration from Albert saw him drop Wellens, who dropped back to Nys, but at the end of lap three, the three were together. At the start of the fourth lap though, Wellens broke clear and Nys left Albert behind as he chased across.

Suddenly, as Nys caught up with Wellens in the woods, the crowd was transported back to the middle of the last decade as the two old adversaries were doing one-on-one battle at the head of a major race for the first time in years.

Nys turns the screw in the usual fashion but a screw comes loose somewhere

At the end of lap four, with three to race, Nys and Wellens were six seconds clear of Albert, with Peeters and Pauwels almost half a minute back. Nys accelerated almost immediately the pair hit the mud though and began to pull away from his old rival.

Midway through the lap, Nys was six seconds clear of Wellens, who was a further six seconds ahead of Albert. Nys was gradually edging away, and Albert was gradually closing on Wellens; at the end of the lap though, Wellens was still only six seconds behind, although Albert was now only four seconds behind him.

Stybar, who’d rested the previous weekend, as he was feeling jaded after a long road season, was now back in eleveth place, almost two minutes behind.

Wellens was making no progress on Nys but refusing to surrender, so Albert was unable to close the gap. With a clear course in front of him, Nys was seemingly heading for yet another smooth, masterful victory in the mud when disaster struck.

While crossing a long, straight, muddy section Nys suddenly stopped, dismounted and began to try to fix something on his rear derailleur. With the problem seemingly infixable, the Kannibaal shouldered his bike, and the rear wheel fell from its drop outs. As he walked away from the race in disgust, the wheel dangled from his chain all the way back to his pit.

Wellens, who was just a few seconds behind Nys when the incident had happened, flew past his old rival without a second look and took a clear lead; Albert followed suit as Nys walked away.

Now chasing the lead Albert seemed to have extra impetus, but there was no way that Wellens was going to surrender his first GvA victory since the 2010 Sluitingsprijs in Oostmalle. Albert was also showing signs of a lack of recent racing and the gap between them began to widen.

Wellens cruises to a long-awaited victory

As Wellens took the bell he was well clear of Albert and was now cruising smoothly in the lead. Pauwels too, could relax since, although he was still back in fourth – up from fifth after Nys’ abandon – his chief rivals in the GvA standings – Stybar, Meeusen and Nys – were either behind him or on the way to the showers.

Despite Albert’s best efforts, Wellens managed to continue to grow his advantage around the final lap. The 33-year-old wiped the mud from the chest of his skinsuit, so as to uncover his sponsors’ names, as he entered the finishing straight. The Telenet-Fidea captain sat up, punching both fists in the air, to take a long-waited victory.

Albert crossed the line 22 seconds later, clearly pleased with his first race back, with Peeters coming over in third after 36 seconds. Stybar – despite sitting out last week’s tough races – finished almost three and a half minutes back in 14th place.

Marianne Vos leads from the front to take women’s race

Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) marked her return from the Dutch national team’s South African training camp with an imperious victory in the women’s race. The World champion finished a long way clear of Telenet-Fidea pair, compatriot Sophie de Boer and Briton Nikki Harris.

“When you return to racing straight after a training camp you shouldn’t think too much and go for it,” said Vos afterwards. “I had no jetlag, Because no it was South Africa and I slept well on the plane.

“I felt good immediately,” Vos explained. “I quickly opened a gap and managed to hold my pace open it up my lead. On such a muddy course it makes no sense to hold on, it makes no difference to how hard it is if you stand still.

“[Mud’s] not my strongest point,” she admitted, “but if your condition is good then you go well. Apparently it keeps the public happy too, so why not?”

Vos hit the front early on, and was briefly accompanied by de Boer and Gabby Day (The Chainstay), but quickly broke away and was 45 seconds clear by the race’s halfway point. Harris moved forward as Day faded, and fought hard with teammate de Boer for second place; British champion Helen Wyman (Kona) was not far behind the Telenet-Fidea pair, but was unable to get on terms and had to settle for fourth place.

In the absence of Koppenbergcross winner Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash), Wyman has the consolation of taking the lead in the women’s GvA Trofee after two events.

Result GP Rouwmoer Essen Elite Men
1. Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
2. Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus
3. Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
4. Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Revor
5. Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
6. Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Style & Concept Cycling Team
7. Martin Zlamalik (Cze) Landbouwkrediet
8. Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team
9. Gerben de Knegt (Ned) Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team
10. Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel) Landbouwkrediet

Result GP Rouwmoer Essen Elite Women
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nedeland Bloeit
2. Sophie de Boer (Ned) Telenet-Fidea
3. Nikki Harris (GBr) Telenet-Fidea
4. Helen Wyman (GBr) Kona Factory Racing
5. Daphny van den Brand (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl
6. Sanne Cant (Bel) Boxx Veldritacademie
7. Gabriella Day (GBr) The Chainstay
8. Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team
9. Joyce Vanderbeken (Bel) Cycling Team Vermeeren
10 Maureen Bruno Roy (USA)

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