A case of deja-vu all over again in the men’s race at the GVA Azencross. The huge crowd was massed all over the course, sometimes five deep in not more, to watch the battle. With the Belgian Championships coming up the crowd was watching for a duel between Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). Just like what had happened at Diegem until Nys had a problem on the final lap. And that’s exactly what happened, yes again a mistake or bad luck for Nys in what the sporza commentators called ‘the last ronde syndrome’. It was a dropped chain at Diegem, it was a mishap during a bike exchange at Azencross, but the result was the same, second place to Albert.
The two were dueling it out, testing each other and hoping for a 2-way sprint when an error in the pit caused Nys to go down in the final lap. Albert took off to claim the victory while Nys got back up immediately to hold on to second.
“I was on the right tires but Sven had a fall in the materialpost [pit]. For me, I wanted the sprint because next week is the Championship of Belgium and I want to see how fast I am against Sven so for me I wanted to sprint but destiny has chosen.” Albert said after the race.
Nys was obviously disappointed when he crossed the line, bowed over his bike. But he spoke rather matter-factly after the podium ceremony. “I felt myself really strong and I think I was really prepared to do a really strong sprint. I took a bike with hard tires so it was for me an important sprint two weeks before the World Championships and it can’t happen because I crashed, it’s a little bit stupid.”
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Nys went out like a pistol on the first lap with a small gap by the time the field flew over the whoops with the crowd roaring at the end of the final lap but the chase was on. He was caught and a lead group of 5 riders was created. Taking advantage of a bobble midway through the race Albert and Nys flew the coop. Behind them, World Champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea), only on his second race back after a knee injury, led the chase and finished third.
Stybar is still working on getting his power back. “It’s just at the start, you are just waiting on how the race is going on. After the first lap, second lap I felt quite okay but I flatted when I was just behind Sven and then I lost some seconds, I closed it but then I made a mistake. I closed the gap three times and four times not anymore.” he laughed.
Page flies. “I’m very happy. It’s very promising, going in the right direction.” said Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) who had a great ride to finish 9th with a taped up ankle. After missing the first selection, Page fought in the second chase group and taking risks with his line through the mud and snow he blazed his way on the final lap to pick off a few riders and move up.
“It was mud but there was ice on the bottom so it was very ankle-twisting.” Page laughed about an hour after the race. Page ruptured a tendon two weeks ago at the Scheldecross race. “I taped my ankle very well, it’s like a cast basically. And it’s frozen of course and my ankle was cold and it gets even colder when it doesn’t have circulation due to the cold, but it’s okay. I’ve been trying to experiment with taping it so that I use actually both legs because I’ve been compensation but now I’m getting better at it.”
Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus). “Today I missed my start, in the first round I think I was 25 seconds behind Sven so I didn’t panic and I just kept on riding and riding and I saw that I closed the gap in 2 or 3 rounds. Then I was thinking about the victory but not in the first round. It was very difficult, the legs were good but not very well from Diegem and Zolder so I’m very happy.”
Would he have won if Nys had not had a problem? “I don’t know but on Monday I think the sprint was already ridden because you must be the first one in the park and today I was ready for sprinting with Sven. I was on the right tires but Sven had a fall in the materialpost [pit]. For me, I wanted the sprint because next week is the Championship of Belgium and I want to see how fast I am against Sven so for me I wanted to sprint but destiny has chosen.”
Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). “Yeah today more than Diegem because in Diegem I felt that Niels was maybe a little bit too strong but here I felt myself really strong and I think I was really prepared to do a really strong sprint. I took a bike with hard tires so it was for me an important sprint two weeks before the World Championships and it can’t happen because I crashed, it’s a little bit stupid.”
Ready for the Belgian Championships? “We are not there because today I crashed again, it’s important that my back is alright. I have tomorrow another race so I must control everything and look that everything in my back is okay. We’ll see what happens and that I have the power in Baal and that I don’t crash anymore then I can say that I’m ready for the Championships because my shape is really good for the moment but I don’t win because I have some troubles.”
Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea). “It’s really great and I’m really satisfied. Of course when you are first time third and you know that you are not so far behind, you of course want more and more but I have to stay realistic. I’m missing some competition and you miss also some power so just on the maximum effort you just miss the power but it’s okay, it’s also a pity that I flatted today. But it’s no problem, when I can be two-times third, it means that I’m not so far from the real top and with that I’m really satisfied.”
About his knee. “Until now it feels okay but mostly when you feel something, it’s the day after in the morning (laughs) so I’m just going to wait to see how it will be tomorrow morning. Because a day like today, water, cold, snow, all these things are really very bad for the knee but you can’t predict how it will develop. One day it’s really very good, you feel nothing and then the day after, it’s again very bad.”
About his training and racing. “I have big advantage because I don’t have to watch any classements [series standings] so I can just train even between the races because right away if I am fifth, third, win, then for me actually it doesn’t matter so I can really train very between the races.
About not focusing on series standings. “It’s not really easy but I am quite an ambitious guy. I want in every race to be in front. For instance today I had to close the gap three times on the front but then also, I could just say oh I’ll just let them go because what does it matter today if I’m third or fifth but I just want to go for the win, I just want to do the race. It’s not about if you are good in the classement, it’s just about do you like to win or not. So I try today and I will try again in the other races.”
Jonathan Page (Planet Bike). “I started well but just not far enough. I guess I’d say that I missed the first select little group and that was tough to make up ground. I just kept that hammer down for most of the whole race, all the way until the very last lap. Sven Vanthourenhout and I tried to use each other to get back there.”
About choosing the best lines. “It depended on where you were, some of the snow lines are actually faster because the ground is harder underneath but a little bit to the left is the mud section where everyone had ridden. So if you did your homework looking at the race course before then normally you could make up some positions but it changes too. Like for instance on the last lap I took a totally different line than I normally would of, I just floored into one of the sections and hoped for the best and it worked. It’s just like riding a rodeo bull in that first section.”
Top 10 Men GVA Azencross Results
1. Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus 0:56:22
2. Sven Nys (Bel) Landbouwkrediet +00:11
3. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team +00:47
4. Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team +00:52
5. Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus +00:59
6. Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team +01:12
7. Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Revor +01:21
8. Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team +01:27
9. Jonathan Page (USA) Planet Bike +01:28
10. Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank-Giant Off Road Team +01:29
45. Brian Matter (USA) Gear Grinder -1lap
52. Mitchell Hoke (USA) Clif Bar Development Team -2laps
54. Craig Richey (Can) Cyclocrossracing.Com p/b Blue -3laps
55. Mark Lalonde (USA) Cal Giant-Specialized
56. Ryan Iddings (USA) Redline
57. Sean Babcock (USA) Kona
61. Ryan Knapp (USA) BikeReg.com
63. Davy Yeater (USA) River City Bicycles-Cannondale -4laps
64. Shaun Adamson (Can) Cycle-Smart
66. David Andrew Quist (USA) Team Clif Bar Cycling -5laps