By Patrick O’Grady
Niels Albert launched a spirited defense of his Belgian cyclo-cross championship on Sunday, but it wasn’t to be — Sven Nys proved unstoppable on a strongman’s course in Hooglede-Gits.
Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) started strong, taking the lead just past the second staircase on the heavy circuit, which featured seemingly endless stretches of sticky mud, two staircases and plenty of running.
But Nys (Landbouwkrediet) emerged from a six-man chase on the second lap, and when the defending champ nearly slid out on a slick ramp Nys was quickly on him. Behind, Rob Peeters and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) led the chase with Dieter Vanthourenout (BKCP-Powerplus).
The two had 15 seconds over the chase as the lap ended. But when Nys found himself with a slight advantage following the descent of the second staircase, he glanced over one shoulder at Albert and gave it the gas.
It was the beginning of the end.
With five laps to race Nys had nine seconds over the defending champ, and Albert would get no closer as the Landbouwkrediet rider attacked the mud with a vengeance.
Two laps from the finish Nys had nearly 40 seconds on his rival, who was clearly spent and making mistakes, while Peeters took charge of third place.
Going into the final lap Nys had an insurmountable advantage — Albert was completely out of sight, 49 seconds down, and the Landbouwkrediet rider dialed his pace back a notch and concentrated on riding a flawless finale.
Nys had plenty of time to enjoy his victory, raising both arms in triumph before slipping into the final pit for a clean machine. One last trip up the last staircase and Nys celebrated all the way to the line.
He finished in 1:02:21, 50 seconds ahead of a glum Albert, who waved resignedly at the crowd as he coasted across the line. Peeters rounded out the podium in third at 1:15.
• Coming next: Coverage of the elite men’s and women’s races from the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Madison, Wis. Streaming video of the women’s race begins at 10:50 a.m. Mountain time. Video of the men’s race starts at 1:15 p.m.