Though this weekend marks the end of the cyclocross season, you should have put the Belgian ales away weeks ago and gotten back on your road bike. However, our favorite European stars have one more race in their legs before they can hang up their knobbies.
Fortunately for us, the final edition of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trofee holds some intrigue and excitement, as Kevin Pauwels is looking to spoil Sven Nys’s run at a seventh consecutive victory in the series. Both Pauwels and Nys have reason to be wary of each other. Pauwels has had an impressive run over the past few months, drawing close to Nys’s lead in the series two weeks ago in Lille when he outsprinted Nys and Stybar. Nys, however, proves difficult to beat reliably, winning in Hoogstraten last weekend in challenging conditions that made it difficult for anybody else to follow him. Pauwels may be having a particularly fine end to the season, but Nys isn’t slowing down.
The two go into the race with Nys ahead by two points; Pauwels needs to beat Nys and land on the podium or beat him by two places in order to claim the GvA Trofee victory. Nys will be gunning for a victory; at 34 years old, though he occasionally indicates that his career is winding down, he shows little sign of losing his edge.
Should Pauwels win, it would be a fine end to his time at Telenet-Fidea, as he’s joining Klaas Vantornout at Sunweb-Revor next year. It would also be the icing on the cake of a break-out season for Pauwels, who has five wins and a bronze medal at the World Championship to brag about at the young age of 24.
The race may come down to course conditions, as many of Pauwels’ victories this year have come on fast courses, in races where the leaders have a hard time shaking off their rivals. Indeed, he’s shown himself to be a fearsome sprinter after 60 minutes, having taken on Albert, Nys, and Stybar on multiple occasions, showing both strength and tactical savvy. He’s as capable when it’s dry and fast as Nys is in the mud. Nys has shown time and time again his ability to win when challenging conditions create a selective race.
Will Pauwels take the victory, and will it be a sign that he’s on the cusp of an incredible career? Or will Nys hold him off for another year, further cementing his legend? It’s anybody’s guess.