Bpost Bank Trofee: Niels Albert wins a duel with Zdeněk Štybar to take the Loenhout Azencross
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Friday, December 28, 2012

Bpost Bank Trofee: Niels Albert wins a duel with Zdeněk Štybar to take the Loenhout Azencross

by Ben Atkins at 10:28 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, Race Reports and Results
Nightmare day for Sven Nys sees Albert take control in overall Trofee standings

niels albertNiels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) won his third straight victory in the Azencross, after a long duel with Zdeněk Štybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), on another very muddy day in Loenhout, near Antwerp; effectively taking control of the overall Bpost Bank Trofee. World champion Albert sprinted away from the field - with Štybar and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) behind him - at the intermediate GvA sprint, midway around the second of seven laps; his continuous pace eventually proved too much for Vantornout, but Štybar refused to be left behind.

It was not until the final muddy part of the final lap that Albert managed to shake off the Czech champion - having had to chase him down on the previous lap - and he sprinted the final part of the course to win by 16 seconds. Vantornout meanwhile, had been caught by Sunweb-Revor teammate Kevin Pauwels, who took third place just ahead of him, with Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) fifth.

The race proved to be one to forget for Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), as the Belgian champion crashed twice on the course’s muddiest sections and - in his frustration - stormed into the crowd after a fan that had thrown a plastic beer glass at his front wheel. Losing several minutes to Albert by the finish, Nys effectively lost all hope of taking the Bpost Bank Trofee overall, which was to be decided on overall time for the first time.

Mud, mud, mud as the course is no respecter of reputations

With the wet winter continuing in Belgium, the almost flat Loenhout course was to be its usual muddy self, with several long sections almost unrideable. Aside from the sloppy conditions - which saw most riders change their bikes virtually every lap - the course was to feature a bridge, a short staircase, two large bumps and its iconic “washboard” pump track that riders used their arms to propel their bikes across, rather than their legs.

Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) made his usual fast start, and led the race out onto the fields with Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) right behind him. Swiss champion Julien Taramarcaz (BMC Racing) crashed shortly after the first corner, right in front of Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and stopped the luckless rider in his tracks; most of the rest of the field was able to get past the Swiss rider, but Peeters and Vantornout began to pull clear.

Nys then suffered his first crash as his wheel went the wrong side of a fencepost - at almost the exact spot that had seen him come off in the previous year’s race - and, by the time he had got himself up, he was almost at the back of the field.

Peeters continued to push on, with Sven Vanthourenhout, Vantornout and Jim Aernouts (both Sunweb-Revor), Thijs van Amerongen (AA Drink), and Simon Zahner (EKZ) right behind him. Vanthourenhout pulled ahead on the first crossing of the washboard, but a large group made its way up to the leaders before the end of the lap, and Štybar led across the line. Albert was present in this group, but Nys was now in a group 29 seconds behind.

Vantornout accelerated away again while, behind him, Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) was the next to come down as the slippery mud pitched him into the advertising fence.

Martin Zlamalik (KDL Trans-Landbouwkrediet) burst clear, with Štybar, Vantornout, Albert Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) and Vanthourenhout. Albert took the GvA sprint, however - ahead of Vantornout and Štybar - increasing his overall lead over Nys in the Bpost Bank Trofee by 15 seconds; he was now 1’06” clear.

As Albert continued his fierce pace he pulled Vantornout and Štybar clear; the World champion pulled away alone on the washboard, but was caught by Vantornout soon afterwards; the two of them crossed the line four seconds ahead of Štybar, with van Amerongen leading a group after ten seconds. Nys was now in a group 33 seconds behind.

Losing control as the course crossed a shallow ditch on its wettest, muddiest part, Nys was suddenly pitched towards a fence post and the Belgian champion flew over the top of the advertising banners. His race was now effectively over, but he still had to finish to keep his overall Trofee ambitions alive.

Štybar catches the leaders and Vantornout feels the pressure

Up ahead both Albert and Vantornout were working hard, and managing to keep Štybar at bay; the Czech champion caught the two leaders as they arrived at the washboard, however, and the three of them were together as they ended the fourth lap.

Pauwels had fought his way through the field, following his opening lap problem, and was just ten seconds behind as he crossed the line. Van Amerongen was next on the course, with the rest of the shattered field trailing behind him; Nys was now in a group that included Meeusen, Gerben de Knegt (Orange Babies) and Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), and was 1’07” behind.

Albert tried to put the pressure on, on the flat, early part of the lap, and momentarily distanced Štybar again. The World champion almost came off on the exact spot that had seen Nys crash on the previous lap, however, allowing the Czech past again, and the trio was together once more.

As they hit the drier, second half of the course, however, Albert accelerated again, and put Vantornout in trouble this time. The World champion had a small gap, that Štybar was trying to close; meanwhile, Pauwels was gradually inching his way across the gap to the leading trio.

Vantornout was distanced a little on the washboard but, as he caught up, Štybar stumbled on a corner and Albert escaped. The Czech champion pulled the World champion back before he reached the line, however, but Albert’s acceleration had pulled open the gap to Pauwels to ten seconds again.

On the muddiest, early part of the course Albert sought, yet again, to pull away. Once again, Vantornout was the one to be distanced slightly, but Štybar was sticking to the World champion’s wheel.

As Vantornout cracked, his teammate Pauwels slid off on the hairpin bend that followed the pits, putting both Sunweb-Revor riders on the back foot. Štybar was still firmly on the wheel of Albert however, with the World champion doing all of the pacesetting. The duo was 17 seconds ahead of Vantornout - as Albert momentarily manoeuvred Štybar to the front - with two laps to go, with Pauwels just seven seconds behind his teammate.

Albert and Štybar go mano a mano as Nys goes into the crowd

Albert sprinted across the mud again, but this time Štybar sprinted past him and tried to break away. Gradually, the gap was opening, as the Czech champion stamped on his pedals; Albert - having led for so long - was now beginning to look tired, but was just managing to stop Štybar from getting too far away.

Behind them, the two Sunweb-Revor riders had got together, and Vantornout and Pauwels were working together to try to chase the leaders.

Albert was holding Štybar at seven seconds, around the zigzag run up, over the bridge, and onto the washboard for the penultimate time. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider was still sprinting away, but so was the World champion and, at the bell, the gap was cut to just five seconds.

Štybar weaved through the first muddy sections, but Albert was gaining on him and, as they wove their way around some midfield zigzags, they were together again. Štybar stamped on the pedals across the muddy ditch for the last time, but this time Albert was stuck close to him and, as they both passed through the pits together to change their bikes, they were wheel to wheel with half a lap to go.

Pauwels now seemed to have cracked behind the two leaders, and Vantornout was chasing alone in third place.

Having caught up with Štybar, Albert then took his turn to attack and, as the World champion accelerated across the last sloppy mud part of the course, Štybar had to let him go. They were back together as they shouldered their bikes, but Albert escaped over the bridge and pulled further clear over the washboard.

Meanwhile, Nys’ bad day was getting worse, as he got off his bike and stormed into the crowd to berate a fan that had thrown a plastic cup at him.

This time it was too late for Štybar to close the gap and Albert sprinted around the final corners, and hit the finishing straight alone. Throwing both arms in the air, he crossed the line, before punching the air with delight; Štybar rolled in 16 seconds later, with Pauwels - having caught and passed Vantornout - finishing third after 56 seconds.

Nys deliberately failed to finish, and lost five minutes in the overall Bpost Bank Trofee.  With Albert also taking 30 bonus seconds, Nys' challenge was effectively over; the World champion now led Pauwels in second place but 5’18”.

Win number five for Sanne Cant in a tight women’s race

sanne cantSanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) took her fifth victory of the season so far in a close sprint over Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea). The two riders had ridden clear of Katie Compton (Trek) after the US champion came away second best from a shoulder to shoulder encounter with Harris in the final lap. She was also overtaken by Katerina Nash (Luna Chix), with the Czech rider going on to take third place.

Compton and Cant had made the early pace, and had managed to break clear of the rest of the field, as Harris and Nash led the chase behind them. World champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank Giant), who had looked so invincible in the Zolder World Cup just two days before, had crashed spectacularly in the opening lap and spent the rest of the race chasing to get back to the front.

Compton slipped off on a bend, stopping Cant in her tracks, which allowed Harris to catch up and, as the two riders went shoulder to shoulder soon afterwards, Harris proved the stronger and Compton came down again.

Harris continued alone in the lead, but Belgian champion Cant steadily closed her down before the finish; the two of them hit the finishing straight together, with Harris in the lead, but Cant just managed to ease past the British rider before they hit the line.

Result Elite Men
1. Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus
2. Zdeněk Štybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
3. Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Revor
4. Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Revor
5. Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
6. Thijs van Amerongen (Ned) AA Drink
7. Jan Denuwelaere (Bel) Style & Concept Cycling Team
8. Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus
9. Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea
10. Radomir Simunek (Cze) BKCP-Powerplus

Result Elite Women
1. Sanne Cant (Bel) Enertherm-BKCP
2. Nikki Harris (GBr) Telenet-Fidea
3. Katerina Nash (Cze) Luna Chix
4. Katie Compton (USA) Trek Cyclocross Collective
5. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank Giant Offroad Team
6. Helen Wyman (GBr) Kona Factory Racing
7. Ellen Van Loy (Bel) Melbotech Cycling Team
8. Meredith Miller (USA) California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized
9. Gabriella Day (GBr) Rapha-Focus
10. Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (Fra) BH-SR Suntour-Peisey Vallandry


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