Today was GVA (Gazet Van Antwerpen) series’ third event held in Hasselt, Belgium. Due to temperatures hovering just above freezing, the riders were treated to heavy rain, hail and snow throughout the race. It was a real hard mans race with the course covered mostly with thick mud and sand. Real cross.
In an atypical style, Bart Wellens (Fidea) gets the hole shot. But after a couple of minutes, he drops back to the chasing group while Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner ), Thijs Al (Be-One Team) and Kevin Pauwels (Fidea) continued at the front. Shortly after, in a thick mud section lasting only about 20 seconds Nys picks up the pace and puts 5 seconds on the rest. Only Pauwels and Zdenek Stybar (Fidea) are able to bridge up to Nys.
After the first round, Nys and Pauwels are alone in front by a few seconds. Ten minutes later, Wellens seems to have gotten his second wind and broke away from the chase group with Stybar on his wheel. Once they get within striking range, Stybar jumps over Wellens and onto the wheels of Nys and Pauwels.
For the next few minutes, the three of them (Nys, Pauwels and Stybar) lead the race with Wellens yo-yo’ing behind.
OH NO! Nys and Stybar are wrapped around the course ribbon! While Stybar quickly remounts, Nys' bike is stuck and he can’t get it free. Finally a supporter comes over to help. The two Fideas – Wellens and Pauwels – take advantage and quickly gain valuable seconds over the other chasers. Behind them is a group of about ten chasers hovering 10 seconds back. It takes Nys a few minutes but he is finally on the tail end of the group going into the third lap with 4 laps to go. He is in 12th place - 22 seconds behind the Fideas.
Wellens is using his amazing running skills to keep the pressure on at the front. Nys is slowly moving up from the back of the group while his teammate Rob Peeters (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner ) pushes the pace at the front.
Nearing the end of the third lap, Peeters is in third position, 11 seconds behind Wellens and Pauwels, and five seconds ahead of the chase group of nine.
Going into lap 4 (3 laps to go), Nys has already moved up to 5th. Peeters trails the Fideas by six seconds. Richard Groenendaal (AA Drink) is next to cross the finish at 15 seconds behind the leaders, and Nys is behind him at 20 seconds with a group of riders strung out on his wheel. A moment later, Nys puts a gap on the group with a nice acceleration in the mud.
In front, Pauwels attacked Wellens and got a few seconds between them. It didn’t last long though thanks to Pauwels’ semi-endo while getting of his bike, giving Wellens, and eventually Peeters a chance to get back on. Meanwhile, Nys is trying to get by Groenendaal for fourth position who is putting up a good elbow fight.
Nys finally passes Groenendaal through deep mud while groenendaal chooses the parallel smooth grassy supposedly faster path. Very impressive. Instantly Nys was gone! He appears to be gliding over thick deep mud and sand!
Amazingly two minutes after he left Groenendaal he closed the 15 second gap to the leaders. The lead group going into lap 5, with two to go, is now Wellens, Peeters, Pauwels, and Nys. They have 15 seconds on the chasing group of 8.
Wellens is repeatedly attacking the group now to put Nys in difficulty since he is in 4th position. And it worked but not in the way he probably intended. Nys tripped over his own bike when his front wheel hit Pauwels' while running in a tight turn.
These guys are now completely covered in Mud. I guess the hail and snow is the least of their concerns at the moment. Just as I am screaming at the TV for Nys to pass Pauwels who is being gapped by Wellens and Peeters, he does it. My screaming worked!
They are really riding at their limits because they are all slipping out in all the muddy turns - every single one! The pressure is surely on. I wonder what Wellens is thinking as he gives a glance backwards on a long muddy stretch only to see Nys expediently closing the gap.
The group of four are now passing a flurry of lapped riders. Nys just passed Peeters in a sand section and is flying towards Wellens!!!
Uh-OH! Nys just came into view in 4th position. What happened? OH NO - a FLAT TIRE!!! He still has another ½ kilometer to the pit. They pass the start line with one lap to go and Nys is already 14 seconds behind. Bad timing to flat. That flat really cost him the race…or maybe not.
Rob Peeters just ran into the course banner on a slick deep mud descent and the Fideas are gone. Worst yet, Peeters is almost run into from behind by a lapped rider.
My guess is that Wellens will win, Pauwels second and Peeters third. But this is a real (echt in dutch) cross race so anything can happen. Nys is running, and running, and running. He is still riding on the flat for some sections though.
Pauwels just crashed again at the same section as a few laps ago.
Nys just got new bike at the same moment the chase group reached him. If he rides all out, he can still manage a 4th.
Thanks to Wellens’ repeated accelerations, the gap between Wellens, Pauwels and Peeters is many seconds. Wellens is on fire, riding like a man with a real mission. While many seconds behind, Nys again is working on shaking the chase group off his wheel. And he is doing it. Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank), Bart Aernouts (Rabobank), two Fideas and Groenendaal desperately try to keep on Nys’ wheel but he seems to have shaken them all.
For all those who wrote Wellens off earlier in the season, this is his answer directly from his legs.
Splattered in mud from helmet to shoes, Wellens gives a heavy sigh of relief as he wipes the mud chunks off his jersey and crosses the line, helmet slightly tipped and hands raised high.
Pauwels 2nd, Peeters 3rd, Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) outsprints Nys for 4th, Nys 5th.
Bart Aernouts 6th
Gerben de Knegt 7th
Petr Dlask (Fidea) 8th
Richard Groenendaal 9th
Wilant van Gils (Pro Cycling Team ZZPR.nl-Destil-Merida) 10th
Zdenek Stybar 11th
Radomir Simunek (Palmans-Cras) 12th