Niels Albert bounces back with Loenhout GvA victory
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Niels Albert bounces back with Loenhout GvA victory

by Ben Atkins at 10:38 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, Race Reports and Results
 
Belgian champion escapes alone to take second straight Azencross; Marianne Vos outclasses women’s field yet again

niels albertNiels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) bounced back from the disappointment of eighth place in the Boxing Day World Cup in Heusden-Zolder, to take his second straight victory in the Gazet van Antwerpen (GvA) Torfee Azencross in Loenhout Belgium. The Belgian champion escaped the company of Dutch champion Lars Boom (Rabobank) with just over three laps to go, to finish alone, a comfortable margin ahead of the chasing pack.

World champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step) took a second straight second place, outsprinting Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) in the finishing straight, who was unable to respond.

“Everything is blocked from my nose up,” said Albert after the race, revealing that he rode with a cold. “I got it open with a eucalyptus spray, and my condition is good so I can overcome the virus. I had to go very deep into my arsenal of strength.

“I have a lot of strength in my legs and I was able to use it in certain muddy parts of the course to get away,” he added. “For example, I was in a really bad way, but went from place fifteen to place three without too much trouble.”

The Azencross, the fifth round of the eight race GvA Trofee series, was its usual muddy spectacle. With very little geographical topography in the Antwerp area, the course was littered with man-made obstacles, including a bridge, a set of steps, but – most spectacularly – a ‘wasbord’ of bumps; like a BMX pump track.

Disaster for Pauwels as Stybar and Boom get away

A confused start saw Stybar and Boom escape as a crash at the front of the pack, on a particularly broken up part of the course, delayed a number of the other favourites. GvA Trofee leader Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) was forced off his bike by the incident and found himself near the back of a very crowded field. Albert was at the head of the chase, with Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) in tow, but the Dutch and World champions were well clear as they crossed the line at the end of the lap.

A bike change for Boom in the early part of lap two saw Stybar get away alone; behind him by a few seconds was Boom, followed by Nys, Meeusen and the rest. Pauwels was scything his way through the field, but was already a long way behind.

Across the line for the second time Boom had regained Stybar, with Albert and Nys close behind them. A stumble from Stybar, at the point where the first lap incident had taken place, saw Boom surge ahead a little and Albert catch up; Nys was soon on them too, with the World champion now a few metres behind and being caught by Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea).

Nys goes down while Albert and Boom make the winning move

Suddenly Nys crashed as a rut directed him into a fence post. The Kannibaal remounted but his bike wouldn’t work properly and he had to run to the pits, putting him behind the leaders.

Up ahead Albert and Boom were making good their escape; the two riders who had clashed in the media over cooperation in the Boxing Day World Cup race in Heusden-Zolder, were now working together well. With Nys delayed the nearest chasers were now Wellens and Stybar, who were nine seconds down as they crossed the line with five laps to go.

The Nys group, which included Telenet-Fidea pair Meeusen and Rob Peeters, was 21 seconds back, with Pauwels, fighting back, now just 40 seconds behind.

As Boom dismounted to get over the small ditch beside the entrance to the pits, Albert accelerated, and the Belgian champion managed to distance the Dutch. With clear daylight between them Albert kept the pressure on, and the gap kept growing; meanwhile, behind them, Stybar had dropped Wellens and was making his way across the gap to Boom.

Onto the tarmac finishing straight Boom was gaining though, and the two were together as they crossed the line. Nys had pulled Peeters and Wellens up to Stybar, and this group of four was little more than 15 seconds behind.

Albert escapes and goes it alone

Onto the twisting early part of the lap Albert dropped Boom once more, leading by a few metres as they both ran through a heavy mud section. As he had done on the previous lap, the Belgian champion kept the pressure on, and this time managed to make it stick.

As Albert rode away alone Nys was steadily reeling in Boom, with the rest of the chasers strung out behind him.

Nys caught Boom as they exited the ‘Wasbord’ and headed toward the finishing straight, and the new five-man group was a dozen seconds behind Albert as they crossed the line again. Pauwels was now chasing alone, the seventh man on the course, but making little progress on the big men ahead.

Peeters was the next chaser to accelerate, which dropped a tiring Boom. The group was reduced to four, then three, as the Telenet-Fidea rider rode away in pursuit; it was back to four again though, as Nys led the rest across.

Over the line with two to go, Albert was 19 seconds ahead of the chasers, who were beginning to watch one another. Boom was now 50 seconds back, with Pauwels gaining on him; hunting out the improved points of sixth place, but the victory was now surely beyond him.

Wellens was the next to attack, and was soon joined by Peeters and the two teammates rode away from Nys and Stybar. Nys was refusing to yield though, and pulled the World champion back up before they reached the ‘wasbord’.

At the bell Albert was 31 seconds clear of the four chasers, with only a disaster between him and a second straight Azencross victory. Pauwels was more than a minute behind now, but safely in sixth place, which would be a good result after the disaster of his start.

On the winding track across the playing fields Nys put in his trademark final lap acceleration; he managed to drop Wellens and Peeters but, however hard he tried, he couldn’t shake Stybar.

Albert cruised up to the finish line and raised both hands as he took his solo victory. Behind him Stybar opened up his sprint, and Nys had no answer, so the World champion took second. Peeters had dropped Wellens and took fourth place ahead of his team captain, with Pauwels taking the hardest fought sixth place of his career.

Marianne Vos outclasses the women’s field yet again

The women’s race took on a familiar appearance, as World champion Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) outclassed the field again. The Dutch phenomenon escaped early in the race to take her eighth straight win of the season, more than a minute clear of compatriot Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink-Leontien.nl), who beat Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Boxx) in the race for second.

With Vos clear so early, a group of van den Brand, Cant, Nikki Harris and Sophie de Boer (both Telenet-Fidea) and Gabby Day (The Chainstay) rode together in pursuit. Only in the final lap did the five chasers split up, with van den Brand coming in best of the rest.

"It was indeed quite easy to get away," said Vos at the finish. "I immediately had a large gap and managed to continue to ride a solid pace. Although I didn’t race on the Koppenberg, I’m now up to third place in the [GvA] standings.

“I’m still stick to my schedule and it doesn’t include Baal [the GP Sven Nys on January 1st – ed]. It is perhaps a pity that I won’t be able to win this trophy, but there are more important competitions in the coming weeks."

Result GvA Azencross Loenhout Elite Men
1. Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus
2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick Step
3. Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet
4. Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
5. Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
6. Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Revor
7. Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel) Landbouwkrediet
8. Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus
9. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank
10. Aurelien Duval (Fra) Club Champagne Charlott'

Result GvA Azencross Loenhout Elite Women
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit
2. Daphny van den Brand (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl
3. Sanne Cant (Bel) Boxx Veldritacademie
4. Nikki Harris (GBr) Telenet-Fidea
5. Sophie de Boer (Ned) Telenet-Fidea
6. Gabriella Day (GBr) The Chainstay
7. Sanne van Paassen (Ned) Brainwash Wielerploeg
8. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Fra) AC Bazancourt
9. Pavla Havlikova (Cze) Telenet-Fidea
10. Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team

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