Sunday’s Round One of the GVA Trophy was the first real showdown of the European season. Minus an injured Niels Albert, the field was stacked and ready to throw-down on a fast, challenging course ending in front of the Citadel in Namur. World Champion Zdenek Stybar came out on top with an 8-second victory ahead of a very impressive Klaas Vantournout. Kevin Pauwels came in nearly 30-seconds later for third. However, the biggest news of the day was—like last year—Sven Nys, who abandoned after realizing he was too far behind to score serious points.
Stybar’s win was impressive, but not surprising. The World Champion has shown good form this year, albeit against weaker fields. After grabbing the hole-shot Sunday, Stybar’s furious pace created a 5-man lead group containing Vantournout, Pauwels, Bart Aernouts and Dieter Vanthourenhout. By the midway point of the race—when Stybar really turned it on—the only person able to follow was Vantournout. Pauwels might have been there, had a flat tire not eliminated his chance for victory. On the final lap, Stybar gapped Vantornout on one of the course’s steep drops, and held it to the line for the win.
Further back, Francis Mourey’s US start to the season seems to be paying-off; the Frenchman finished with a solid eighth-place ride. Meanwhile, American Jonathan Page left a lot of people scratching their heads after rolling across the line 23rd, more than six minutes down. Things became a bit clearer afterwards when Page admitted his flight to Belgium had landed six hours before the start. Hopefully he can adjust and have a better race this weekend. As for Sven Nys, he blamed his poor start on a failure to clip-in quickly. After making-up some ground, he claims the heat hit him and he unraveled. If his story sounds familiar, look back to the first World Cup round in Treviso last year.
While it wasn’t the showdown we expected, the first round of the GVA Trophy provided an exciting race nonetheless, with World Champion Stybar proving once again that he’s the man to beat. Behind him, several riders continued to improve their game, while a few left a lot to be desired. What does all this mean for this week’s rankings? Time to find out:
International Power Rankings – Week #2
1. Zdenek Stybar (2) – If there were any questions about Stybar’s dominance last season, he provided all the answers in about an hour on Sunday. The biggest benefit for Stybar is that neither Nys nor Niels Albert scored any GVA Trophy points, putting his two biggest rivals in a big hole. At this point, we know Stybar belongs on the front, the question is: can anybody stop him?
2. Klaas Vantornout (3) – With a solid second-place in Namur, Vantornout proved he belongs in the lead group. However, his ability to win remains in question. Vantornout landed on the podium in virtually every major race last year, but never took the top step. Last year was all about Stybar, Nys and Albert—perhaps Vantornout can make it a foursome? First, he needs to pick-up a marquee win.
3. Kevin Pauwels (5) – Last year, Pauwels surprised everyone by making podium after podium. Then, he won the Round 7 of the World Cup, making everyone take notice. Pauwels might have contended for victory had he not flatted early in the race on Sunday. He battled his way back to third, proving he may be even better than last year. I still think he has four or five big wins in his legs this year, but he’ll have to be perfect to do so.
4. Bart Aernouts (4) – Aernouts continued his strong start to the season with a fourth-place finish. Last season, Aernouts was always in the top-10, but rarely made it onto the podium. It looks like he may have taken a big step forward this year. Only time will tell if he’ll remain as consistent as he did last year. Unfortunately, Aernouts is Belgian—in any other country, he’d probably be a superstar.
5. Sven Nys (1) – Nys’ start to the season made it as if the Cannibal were back and firing on all cylanders. However, Sunday proved there are still many questions to be answered. Maybe Sunday was just one bad race—or maybe it’s the start of another excuse-filled season. I will say this though: Nys wants two things this year—a Superprestige title (his tenth) and a World Championship. Maybe he knows what he’s doing?
6. Bart Wellens (9) – Wellens’ fifth-place finish was impressive considering he never made it into the lead group. From the start, Wellens was behind virtually everyone who finished inside the top-10; he essentially chased the entire race. As the season continues, I expect Wellens to be a big player in some major races.
7. Francis Mourey (6) – Mourey began his European season with a solid eighth-place finish in Namur. The transition to Europe can sometimes be a bit taxing, so it was nice to see the French Champion perform well. He’s still missing an important European win though and Sunday’s race proved that he’s not any closer than last year—at least not yet.
8. Dieter Vanthourenhout (7) – Vanthourenhout continues to be the first guy dropped from the lead group. However, his seventh-place finish proves that once he’s in the chase group, he’s there to stay. It’s a big step from being a chaser to being a leader though; I’m not sure Vanthourenhout is ready to take that step.
9. Gerben de Knegt (10) – The elder statesman of cross (technically the co-elder statesman as Christian Heule is the same age) finished ninth Sunday in his second race of the season. (He finished third in his first race, CrossVegas.) While the two races, and fields, were completely different, de Knegt appears to be enjoying good form. I don’t expect any major wins out of the Dutchman, but as we saw last year, the “old guys” always surprise.
10. Tom Meeusen (8) – After an impressive start to the season Meeusen suffered the same fate as Nys. However, Meeusen escapes much of my wrath because he is young and still learning. He actually started quite well, but faded before blowing-up completely. I still think he’s one of the top-10 riders in Europe, but he needs to rebound to stay in the rankings next week.
The showdown in Namur was just as exciting—and crazy—as we expected it to be. However, even the best of us could not have predicted Sven Nys completely giving-up. This weekend brings another showdown, this time in Ruddervoorde for Round One of the Superprestige series. All the pressure is on Nys, especially after last weekend’s collapse. Will he rebound and march his way to a tenth Superprestige title? Will Stybar continue his undefeated streak? Or will someone else finally break through?
We’ll soon find out.
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