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During a very tactical race, Meeusen made a well-timed attack to take a solo victory at the Azencross in Loenhout; Merlier and van Aert completed the podium and the latter defended his overall Bpost lead

Photo: John de Jong

CYCLO-CROSS

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TOM MEEUSEN

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WOUT VAN AERT

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29.12.2015 @ 16:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Meeusen proved that he is still capable of winning the big races on the cyclo-cross calendar when his used great tactical skills and his aggressive riding style to win a very strange edition of the Azencross in Loenhout. The Belgian attacked halfway through the race and as no one reacted, he rode solo for the final part of the race. As the favourites watched each other, it was a big group that sprinted for second place, with Tim Merlier and Wout van Aert making it two Vastgoedservice riders on the podium. The latter defended his overall lead in the Bpost Bank Trofee series.

 

Cyclo-cross is usually dominated by a handful of riders who are capable of winning the biggest races in the three major series. Just below the likes of Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Lars van der Haar who usually share the big wins between them, Tom Meeusen finds himself as one of the few riders who occasionally manages to cause an upset.

 

In the races that come down to pure power and technical skills, Meeusen can rarely compete with the best but when tactics and panache come into play, he has managed to pick up a few major wins. Today he did so again when he took his first series victory with a brave long-distance attack at the Azencross in Loenhout.

 

The race which is part of the Bpost Bank Trofee series, is a strange one as it features lots of jumps but doesn’t have many of the usual features of a Belgian cross race. Before the race, overall Bpost Bank Trofee leader Wout van Aert said that the event has nothing to do with cyclo-cross and that he was just looking to defend his position in the standings.

 

The easy nature of the course had a big impact on the race which turned out to be a very tactical affair. For most of the race, a big group stayed together and this allowed Meeusen to play his cards perfectly and surprise the favourites.

 

Initially, Mathieu van der Poel tried to keep his winning streak of three alive when he attacked in the early part of the race and got clear with Julien Taramarcaz. Van Aert reacted and the young Belgian, Sven Nys and Radomir Simunek all managed to get back to the two leaders. The tactical game caused the pace to go down and when they again hit the finishing straight with five laps to go, a big group had gathered.

 

This is where Meeusen made use of another slowdown to launch a perfectly timed attack. No one responded and he quickly built a lead of more than 10 seconds. Surprisingly, none of the favourites made a single attack to get back to the Telenet-Fidea captain and for the rest of the race, it was the Sunweb duo of Michael Vanthourenhout and Gianni Vermeersch that took turns at setting the pace.

 

Their efforts didn’t pay off and in a very dull race, the gap had gone out to more than 30 seconds at the start of the final lap. This gave Meeusen plenty of time to celebrate his first big win of the season while the favourites decided to save energy for Friday’s big race in Baal. Hence, the battle for second came down to a sprint from a big group and it was the Vastgoedservice pair of Tim Merlier and van Aert that emerged as the fastest, with most of the favourites not even contesting the sprint.

 

Meeusen may have taken the win but van Aert was the other big winner as he defended his overall lead in the Bpost Bank Trofee series. He has a comfortable advantage of 4.19 over Pauwels and 7.57 over Nys as he goes into the penultimate round of the series, Friday’s GP Sven Nys in Baal. The Cannibal’s own race in his own city is the next major event on the cyclo-cross calendar but some of the biggest names will be back in action in tomorrow’s smaller race in Bredene.

 

How it unfolded:

Michael Vanthourenhout took the hole shot and was followed by Tim Merlier, Laurens Sweeck and Sven Nys as he set the pace in the first part of the first lap. The quartet even got a small advantage before they were joined by Jim Aernouts and Tom Meeusen. Meanwhile, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Kevin Pauwels had both had a very bad start and found themselves riding outside the top 10 positions. As opposed to this, Lars Boom was riding well a little further ahead.

 

Vanthourenhout continued to set the pace for most of the lap while Diether Sweeck joined the front group. The Belgian youngster stayed on the front until they hit approached the finishing straight where Merlier took over and he led the group across to the line for the first time. Boom, van der Poel, van Aert and Pauwels found themselves in a second group just a few seconds behind the leaders.

 

As they started the second lap, Laurens Sweeck took over the pace-setting while Boom was leading the chase. The youngster led Merlier and Nys across the line in the intermediate sprint after Julien Taramarcaz, Corne van Kessel and van der Poel had joined the leaders.

 

Sweeck set the pace for most of the lap but when he led the group onto the finishing straight, a big group with the likes of van Aert, Lars van der Haar and Boom had also made the junction. As the pace went down on the tarmac, van der Poel launched a big attack and only Julien Taramarcaz reacted. The dup quickly got a solid advantage while Radomir Simunek took responsibility for the chase.

 

The gap continued to widen and so the favourites soon had to react. It was van Aert who finally took charge and the young slowly started to bring the two leaders back, with Simunek riding in second position and several riders losing contact with the main group.

 

Van Aert and Simunek quickly distanced their companions and this was the signal for Nys to kick into action. The veteran accelerated on the many jumps that came in quick succession near the end of the circuit. At the passage of the line, he had reduced his deficit to 8 seconds while van Aert and Simunek were at 4 seconds. Pauwels led the 8-rider main group at 11 seconds while Boom now found himself more than 30 seconds behind the leaders.

 

In the third lap, van Aert quickly distanced Simunek and rejoined van der Poel and Taramarcaz. Meanwhile, Nys picked up Simunek as he continued his steady comeback.

 

Taramarcaz was starting to tire and he was distanced by van der Poel. Again van Aert had to react by passing the Swiss champion and getting back into chase mode. He made the junction after a short effort and as he ha Taramarcaz in tow, it was a front trio that had gathered.

 

Van Aert was in a determined and he quickly took over the pace-setting. Nonetheless, Nys and Simunek made the junction and moments later Pauwels, van der Haar, Tom Meeusen, Vanthourenthout, David van der Poel, van Kessel, Gianni Vermeersch and Merlier  were all part of a big group that also got back in contention.

 

After the series of jumps, van der Poel attacked again but van Aert was quick to react and when they hit the finishing straight with five laps to go, more than 10 riders led the race. Meeusen was quick to exploit the slower pace, jumping clear at building a 2-second advantage at the passage of the line.

 

No one reacted to Meeusen’s attack and so the gap widened as he continued his effort. Vanthourenhout took charge of the chase and as he accelerated, it looked like both Nys and Pauwels were suffering at the back of the group where small splits constantly appeared. However, the group was intact when they again hit the finishing straight and Vanthourenhout finally slowed down. Due to the slow pace on the tarmac, the gap had gone out to 17 seconds at the passage of the line where Vanthourenhout again took control, clearly working for his team leader Pauwels.

 

Vanthourenhout continued to do all the work in the pursuit of Meeusen but the Belgian was still increasing his advantage. That prompted van der Haar to kick into action and it was the European champion who took control in the second half of the lap. However, the pace again went down as they hit the finishing straight and so the gap had gone out to 20 seconds as they crossed the line with 3 laps to go.

 

Gianni Vermeersch was the next Sunweb rider to take control and he set the pace for most of the lap. He even briefly got a small advantage but van Aert was quick to react and brought the big group back together. The youngster went straight to the front but again the pace went down on the finishing straight and the gap had gone out to 24 seconds at the start of the penultimate lap.

 

Again it was left to Vanthourenhout to lead the chase and he upped the pace significantly. Small splits appeared further back in the group but Meeusen was not slowing down. As he started the final lap, he had an advantage of 32 seconds over the 14-rider chase group which was now led by Simunek and Laurens Sweeck.

 

The favourites were still not responding at all and it was Sweeck and Vermeersch setting the pace in the first part of the lap. Further up the road, Meeusen was already celebrating the win with his mechanics as he passed through the pit zone.

 

Meeusen had plenty of time to celebrate with the fans as he hit the finishing straight while the expected battle for second place never materialized. Sweeck and Vermeersch set the pace while none of the favourites tried any moves and it was a big group that sprinted for the runner-up spot. Sweeck tried to do a long sprint but was passed by the Vastgoedservice pair of Merlier and van Aert who celebrated their accomplishment together.

 

Result:

1. Tom Meeusen 55.52

2. Tim Merlier +0.18

3. Wout van Aert

4. Laurens Sweeck

5. Radomir Simunek +0.19

6. Gianni Vermeersch

7. Mathieu van der Poel

8. Corne van Kessel +0.20

9. Julien Taramarcaz +0.21

10. Sven Nys +0.22

 

Overall standings:

1. Wout van Aert 5.50.54

2. Kevin Pauwels +4.19

3. Sven Nys +7.57

4. Lars van der Haar +9.03

5. Michael Vanthourenhout +9.07

6. Laurens Sweeck +10.03

7. Tim Merlier +10.09

8. Gianni Vermeersch +10.14

9. Julien Taramarcaz +10.17

10. Tom Meeusen +12.26

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