Niels Albert solos from the gun to World Cyclo-cross Championship
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Niels Albert solos from the gun to World Cyclo-cross Championship

by Kyle Moore at 11:03 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, Race Reports and Results, World Championships
Peeters 2nd, Pauwels 3rd in dominant Belgian sweep

Niels AlbertNiels Albert (Belgium) took a lead from the gun in the Elite Men’s World Cyclo-cross Championship, a lead he would never relinquish, and the 26-year-old soloed to his second world title today in Koksijde.

Belgian Rob Peeters capitalized on great form to take second, and World Cup winner Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) came home third to make it a Belgian sweep on the podium. After stamping their authority on the race from the get-go, the home team did not disappoint. Along with the all-Belgian podium, the squad’s remaining four riders came home in positions four through seven.

It was the most dominant display by a country in the event’s history.

Tom Meeusen, Bart Aernouts, Klaas Vantornout, and Sven Nys came away with fourth through seventh respectively, capping off a truly impressive display by the Belgians in front of the passionate home crowd in Koksijde.

“The legs were very, very good and I had a gap of five or six seconds [early on], and I knew it was everything or nothing. Today it was everything, so I’m happy now,” Albert said at the finish.

He went solo early in the race, and said he knew what he was getting himself in for. “I knew it would be very, very hard,” he said. “But when you’re riding alone you can choose your own line before a descent, and you can recuperate before the descent.

“My season is good now. I have two gold medals, and I just turned 26, so I’m very happy.”

Albert got the hole shot in a hectic start that saw a Spanish rider crash, as Albert rode over the first of Koksijde’s famous sand dunes with Steve Chainel (France) and two-time world champion Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic), who were also out quickly. But both riders would eventually drop back, as the beginning of a long day began to take shape for Stybar.

This left Albert to move away alone, as Stybar and Chainel dropped back to the entirety of the Belgian team, who formed the early chase group along with Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic).

Albert quickly padded his lead, which would grow to as big as 48 seconds. Looking smooth and comfortable on the sand, he was never threatened, even as the two riders who had dominated much of the cyclo-cross season, Pauwels and Nys, toiled away in second and third in a futile bid to haul him back.

Pauwels would eventually have to make do with bronze while Nys cracked and was last of an utterly dominant Belgian team.

Peeters used a searing final lap attack to take second. “I never expected this,” he remarked elatedly to Sporza at the finish. “I had a very good day. I rise above myself when I can ride in the service of others.”

Albert gets away early with the whole of Belgium chasing:

Before the flag dropped, powder-blue jerseys lined the front of the start formation, as riders receive starting positions based on world rankings. This did not deter Frenchman Steve Chainel who sprinted to the lead, but it was Albert who got the hole shot at the first right hand bend.

Dry conditions meant that the course - sand dunes and high level of difficulty notwithstanding - was not a major factor throughout the day. Chainel quickly dropped back and Albert got a bit of daylight with Stybar flanking him as the duo rode over a metal bridge early in the opening lap. Their lead quickly became 15 meters with Nys leading Chainel, Simunek, and Pauwels behind.

The record size crowd of nearly 40,000 was making record noise as it saw so many of its home riders so aggressive at the start. It wasn’t long before Nys had closed the gap to Albert and Stybar and a lead group of eight was formed, including two Czechs (Stybar, Simunek) and six Belgians (Albert, Nys, Pauwels, Meeusen, Aernouts, Vantornout). Peeters was working to catch up behind, and soon would, making a lead bunch of nine, including the entire Belgian team.

But Albert was soon away again, and the BKCP-Powerplus rider had a 12-second lead over the chasing group of eight as the race entered its second lap.

On his pink machine, and showing good form entering the race, Stybar’s struggles began early. He got caught up going over a dune early in the second lap and was forced to dismount. Pauwels took advantage and zipped past, while Stybar seemed shocked at the speeds and continued to slip back. He was soon ninth on the course, being paced by countryman Simunek.

Stybar lamented his poor day when it was over. “I had a bad day,” he admitted. “Saturday I had a fever. My legs felt good during the warm up. It is unfortunate, but I must accept it. That’s racing.”

Perhaps given the green light already, Simunek began to pick his own spots, and he ran around three Belgians on one of the course’s longer sections of sand, moving into fourth on the course as Albert continued to pull away up front.

Pauwels turns it into a duel but Albert races cleanly:

Beginning the third of ten laps, Pauwels was just four seconds in arrears of Albert, with Meeusen and four of his countrymen at 18 seconds. The World Cup winner appeared to be about to attach to Albert before he spun out his rear wheel at a sharp right-hander on the sand and Albert took advantage, stretching his lead again as he continued to effectively dismount and run where necessary.

Pauwels noted his errors after the race. “I was not bad, but I made too many mistakes in the sand,” he admitted. “This course is not my thing. Loose sand is not my strong point. Niels was much better.”

To start lap four, Albert continued to appear as if he was working hard, and staying away with seven Koksijde laps still to race seemed improbable. Pauwels was now 13 seconds back, followed by the remaining five Belgians. Stybar continued to work hard, but his deficit had ballooned to 25 seconds, and team-mate Simunek was dropped.

It was at this point that Nys began to sense the danger that Albert presented, and the Kannibaal set off in pursuit of Pauwels in second. Stybar gave it one more attempt, moving up to fourth on the course in an attempt to chase Nys, but it would prove fruitless, as it soon became clear that a new world champion would be crowned.

Already losing time again, Pauwels made another slight mistake, sticking his right brake caliper on a barrier as he was negotiating one of the short, steep hills that had already given him trouble on previous laps. Nys grabbed the opportunity and bridged to his rival. The two finished the lap together and Pauwels looked back for Nys to come through, but the duo was facing a 25-second deficit to Albert.

The Belgians ride ruthlessly as ‘Styby’ rides in reverse:

Positions were locked in a similar fashion for the middle portion of the race as riders dug in and battled the Koksijde dunes. As the fifth lap got underway, Stybar had drifted to 50 seconds behind Albert. Nys began assisting Pauwels, who sat up to momentarily stretch the kinks out of his back. Nys kept the pace high, occasionally achieving some daylight between he and Pauwels, but making no in-roads to the smoothly operating Albert.

Focus turned to the second chase group, containing Peeters, Meeusen, Aernouts, and Vantornout, on lap six. Under the impetus of Peeters, the quartet closed the gap to Pauwels and Nys, who were sharing the responsibility of reeling in Albert on a lap-by-lap basis.

The duo was showing no signs of strife or argument, but their co-op showed no signs of success as Albert began to believe in his chances of victory ahead. The Belgian national team occupied the top seven placings on the course, an unprecedented position they would not relinquish.

Pauwels remained in the saddle and hand-pulled his way along the same barrier he had gotten his brake caught in earlier, and Nys ran behind, but rather than seeing Albert ahead in the distance, the two would soon begin hearing their chasing countrymen from behind.

Albert goes unchallenged as the battle for second heats up:

With Simunek and Stybar over a minute and a half back, Nys and Pauwels continued to share the workload by lap. Albert’s lead was up to 37 seconds with 4 laps to race. It was 42 seconds one lap later but the gap between Nys and Pauwels and the chasing quartet of Belgians was under ten seconds. Peeters came over the line and finally asked for help, and Meeusen soon came through to help his trade team-mate. They quickly made it on and the chase group became six as Meeusen took to the front.

With two laps to race, Albert had 48 seconds on the chase, virtually assured of the title barring any mechanical failure. With Stybar more than two minutes back and being caught by a bunch of four, Nys began to struggle as well. Originally it had been Aernouts who had lost contact with the chase group, but he began to recover as Nys began to fade.

Conservation mode took over for Albert, who had 44 seconds in hand over the chase beginning his final lap. The crowd whipped into a frenzy again as he worked his way through it. He encountered no problems in the final sandy sections, sitting up to acknowledge the crowd with two right-hand bends still to make.

Behind, Peeters made it known that he was the second strongest on the day. After providing a lot of work to consolidate the chase, yet showing no signs of strain on his face, he attacked his compatriots and almost instantly gained an advantage. Vantornout was dropped along with Nys and Meeusen tried to push the pace to earn the final podium spot.

But the intelligent Pauwels kept him in range. Emotion took over Peeters as he crossed with his breakout second place and Pauwels overtook Meeusen, who came down in the sand on the final lap for third. Aernouts crossed seconds later, followed by Vantornout and Nys, completing the unprecedented Belgian finish.

Stybar acknowledged the support of the crowd as he crossed the line, taking the high road in spite of his unexpected 13th place finish.


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World cyclocross championships, Koksijde, Belgium: Elite men's results:

  Click on the arrowsat the top of the column to sort the race results.
Country Result Name Team Time
bel BEL 1 Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) 01:06:07
bel BEL 2 Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) 00:00:24
bel BEL 3 Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb - Revor) 00:00:30
bel BEL 4 Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) 00:00:34
bel BEL 5 Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team) 00:00:35
bel BEL 6 Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb - Revor) 00:01:09
bel BEL 7 Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet - Euphony) 00:01:11
cze CZE 8 Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus) 00:02:15
ger GER 9 Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus) 00:02:25
sui SUI 10 Simon Zahner (Suisse Ekz) 00:02:31
fra FRA 11 Steve Chainel (Equipe Cycliste FDJ - BigMat) 00:02:37
fra FRA 12 Francis Mourey (Equipe Cycliste FDJ - BigMat) 00:02:48
cze CZE 13 Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma - Quickstep) 00:03:17
fra FRA 14 Aurelien Duval () 00:03:41
ned NED 15 Niels Wubben (Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team) s.t.
sui SUI 16 Julien Taramarcaz () 00:03:42
ned NED 17 Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team) s.t.
usa USA 18 Ryan Trebon () 00:04:02
ger GER 19 Marcel Meisen (BKCP-Powerplus) 00:04:06
ven VEN 20 Jose Ramos () s.t.
ned NED 21 Twan Van Den Brand (WV Schijndel) 00:04:07
pol POL 22 Mariusz Gil (Baboco - Revor Cycling Team) 00:04:22
ned NED 23 Thijs Van Amerongen (AA Cycling Team) 00:04:40
ger GER 24 Christoph Pfingsten (Cycling Team De Rijke) 00:05:10
sui SUI 25 Christian Heule () 00:00:01
usa USA 26 Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly Cycling) 00:00:02
sui SUI 27 Marcel Wildhaber () s.t.
ita ITA 28 Enrico Franzoi (Miche-Guerciotti ) s.t.
fra FRA 29 John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale) s.t.
cze CZE 30 Jiri Polnicky (PSK Whirlpool-Author) s.t.
cze CZE 31 Martin Zlamalik () s.t.
ned NED 32 Mitchell Huenders (Ruiter Dakkapellen Wielerteam ) 00:00:03
cze CZE 33 Vladimir Kyzivat () s.t.
usa USA 34 Tim Johnson () s.t.
esp ESP 35 Isaac Suarez () s.t.
gbr GBR 36 Ian Field () s.t.
cze CZE 37 Petr Dlask () s.t.
fra FRA 38 Clement Bourgoin (Charvieu-Chavagneux IC) s.t.
ger GER 39 Sascha Weber (Team Differdange) s.t.
ita ITA 40 Marco Ponta () s.t.
esp ESP 41 Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez () s.t.
usa USA 42 James Driscoll (Jamis/Sutter Home Pro Cycling Team) s.t.
usa USA 43 Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare Presented By Maxxis) 00:00:05
ita ITA 44 Mirko Tabacchi () s.t.
jpn JPN 45 Yu Takenouchi () s.t.
swe SWE 46 Magnus Darvell () s.t.
svk SVK 47 Martin Haring () s.t.
lux LUX 48 Gusty Bausch () s.t.
lux LUX 49 Christian Helmig () s.t.
ita ITA 50 Christian Cominelli (Team Idea) s.t.
can CAN 51 Craig Richey () 00:00:06
esp ESP 52 Aitor Hernandez Gutierrez () s.t.
svk SVK 53 Vaclav Metlicka () s.t.
aut AUT 54 Daniel Geismayr () s.t.
jpn JPN 55 Keichi Tsujiura () s.t.
aut AUT 56 Karl Heinz Gollinger () 00:00:07
aus AUS 57 Rattray Lewis () s.t.
aut AUT 58 Robert Gehbauer () s.t.
nor NOR 59 David Andrew Quist () 00:00:08

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