This past weekend saw two races, and though Saturday’s race in Cauberg had plenty of big names to pay attention to on the starting line, it was Sunday’s race in Oostmalle, culminating the season-long Gazet Van Antwerpen Trofee, that was the highlight of the weekend.
Saturday’s race saw veteran Bart Wellens take the win ahead of Philipp Walsleben and Niels Albert. Since his 5th place at Worlds, Walsleben has racked up some very decent results, with several podium finishes to his name. It’s a fine way to end the season for the German champion.
A few people opted to miss Saturday’s race, notably Kevin Pauwels, who entered Sunday locking horns with Sven Nys in a battle for the GvA Trofee. The GvA Trofee is one of international cyclocross’s three major series, along with the UCI World Cup and the Superprestige. Sven Nys has had an iron grip on the Superprestige and GvA Trofee for most of the past decade, and a considerable number of World Cup series victories, to boot. Every year he races, somebody asks if he’s getting too old to consistently race at the top level. This year, with a raft of talented youngsters putting up good results, his neck-and-neck battle with Kevin Pauwels in the final race of the GvA Trofee took on poetic proportions: would the old man hand the reigns to a new young champion?
Pauwels had the benefit of a deep Telenet-Fidea team, working for him in a final race before he moves to Sunweb-Revor. Zdenek Stybar and Bart Wellens are two good men to have on your side. The early part of the race saw a group of ten trading attacks; Nys tried to go alone, but Stybar chased him down, with Aernouts, Pauwels, Vantornout, Wellens, and de Knegt all behind. Halfway through the race, Niels Albert took advantage of the standoff between Sven Nys and Telenet-Fidea, jumping away and quickly opening up a fifteen-second gap.
Behind, the situation deteriorated. Nys and Pauwels, each seeking advantageous position, bumped elbows repeatedly. Some moments looked as though the racers were engaged in a cyclocross match sprint, slowing to a painfully dreary pace on the turns before going full throttle on the straightaways. On the final lap, Pauwels punctured, lost seconds before he could take a bike change in the pit, and fought hard enough to reach the lead group again. But it was all for naught – the finish line came too soon, and Nys, coming down the straightaway with Bart Aernouts and Zdenek Stybar, could ease his sprint and sit up, his arms in the air, having defeated Pauwels to win his seventh consecutive GvA Trofee, and his eighth in nine years.
Pauwels later admitted that the pressure gotten to him, even if he didn’t use those words. He fumed about Nys’s tactics and revealed that he was unaware that the race was on the final lap. Nys, on the other hand, said that he was “in an ideal position to come out winning” – a bold statement considering his defeat two weeks ago in a sprint by Pauwels, but one that shows the confidence that his deep experience offers him. Nys knew how to defeat Pauwels in Oostmalle.
It was a fine way to end the season.