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The newly crowned Belgian champion escapes from Pauwels and Meeusen on the final lap to take a convincing win in Leuven in what was his final race before his world championships title defence

Photo: John de Jong

KEVIN PAUWELS

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TOM MEEUSEN

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19.01.2014 @ 16:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) proved that he is the red-hot favourite to defend his World Championships title in Hoogerheide when he won his final race in the rainbow jersey in convincing fashion. Having escaped with Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet Fidea) in the race in Leuven, the newly crowned Belgian champion made one decisive attack near the end of the final lap and quickly rode away from his companions to prove his superiority.

 

Sven Nys proved that he is in a class of his own at the moment when he won today's cyclo-cross race in Leuven. Just 24 hours after winning the smaller event in Zonnebeke, the world champion was up against most of his biggest rivals but no one was even close to matching his fierce accelerations on the climbs and in the thick mud.

 

After riding an aggressive race, Tom Meeusen had escaped on his own but Nys was always in complete control. The world champion made one short acceleration with Kevin Pauwels in tow and in a matter of seconds, he had made it back to the lone leader to create what would be the final selection.

 

Pauwels and Meeusen both launched repeated attacks while Nys was mostly content at staying at the back of the group, keeping everything in check ahead of one final attack. At one point, Pauwels appeared to have opened a gap that could be too big for Nys to close but in a display of almost unreal superiority, he easily closed it less than a quarter of a lap.

 

Riding onto the final lap, everyone was just waiting for Nys to make his final attack but the world champion felt so comfortable that he allowed himself to wait for the final difficult section of the race. At that time, his chances had even been made greater due to a mechanical that took an unfortunate Meeusen out of contention. Hitting the muddy section for the final time, he easily left Pauwels in his wake and had plenty of time to celebrate his convincing win. Pauwels was a comfortable 2nd while Meeusen just managed to save his spot on the podium by sprinting across the line in front of Philipp Walsleben (BKCP Powerplus) and Baert Aernouts (AA Drink).

 

The win was Nys' final one before his title defence which takes place on February 2 in Hoogerheide. The veteran has decided to skip next week's final World Cup race in Nommay and will instead prepare for the most important race of the year in Mallorca.

 

The rest of the world elite will fine-tune their condition in France next Sunday where Lars van der Haahr will also try to secure himself the overall win in the season-long competition.

 

Van Aert opens the race strongly

Youngster Wout Van Aert proved his intentions in his battle against the big boys when he sprinted away from the site of the start, taking the first position as the peloton headed into the first technical section on the circuit. He was quickly ovetaken by teammate Tom Meeusen and the latter bunny hopped the barriers, he opened a slight gap over the strung-out peloton.

 

After  a steep climb, Meeusen was joined by Eddy van Ejzendoorn while Van Aert led the chase in the main group. The many steep climbs had blown the group to pieces and only 6 riders made up the nearest chasers of the leading duo.

 

Nys brings things back together

Halfway through the first lap, Nys hit the front and the world champion brought the chasers back up to Meeusen and Van Ijzendoorn. As they neared the first passage of the first line, Meeusen launched a new attack and he passed the line with a two-second lead over the next group which consisted of Nys, Van Aert, Klaas Vantornout, Van Eijzendoorn, Martin Bina, Wietse Bosmans and Thijs van Amerongen.

 

On the second lap, Van Aert made a small mistake while bunny hopping the barriers and this sent the youngster back towards the back of the group which has now grown significantly in size. Bosmans and Bina had combined forces to lead the chase as they tried to keep the lone Meeusen under control.

 

Nys reacts

The duo created a small gap over the rest of the peloton but Nys was quick to sense the danger. He quickly bridged the gap and the chasing trio made it across to Meeusen. A few moments later, van Amerongen also made the junction to make it a front quintet. As they entered the finishing straight, Walsleben had  brought the two groups back together though.

 

Last week Rob Peeters was 2nd in the Belgian championships but the Belgian had had a disastrous start and had spent the first two laps in chase mode. Riding in the time trial position with his arms resting on the bars, he crossed the line with an 18-second deficit and he desperately tried to get back into contention.

 

Bina leads the race

On the third lap, Bina accelerated and the Czech champion opened a gap on the first steep climb. As nobody had any intention of initiating a serious chase, his advantage grew substantially until Walsleben hit the front and started to string things out a bit.

 

The German champion quickly closed the gap to make it a 7-rider front group consisting of Bina, Walsleben, van Amerongen, Nys, Meeusen, Kevin Pauwels and Bart Aernouts. Van Aert was struggling to stay in contact but as they crossed the line, the youngster was back in the front group.

 

Peeters back in contention

Impressively, Peeters was now about to close the gap and his deficit was now only a few seconds. Meanwhile, Vantornout had exploded completely and was now riding with Bosmans far behind the leaders.

 

As they started the next lap, Meeusen decided that it was time to try another attack. The winner of the Koppenbergcross accelerated hard and opened up a gap despite Bina's attempt to stay on his wheel.

 

Meeusen performs strongly

Meeusen was riding really well and he extended his advantage over his nearest chasers who were now Bina and Bart Aernouts. Nys again sensed the danger and went to the front in an attempt to bring things back together.

 

The world champion was clearly the strongest rider. Putting down the hammer, he quickly closed the gap to the two chasers while the rest of the group was handing on for dear life. Having made the junction, Nys went straight to the front as he continued his hard pursuit of Meeusen.

 

Nys with another acceleration

Accelerating in a muddy section, Nys proved his class when only Walsleben could stay on his wheel. In a matter of seconds, the duo had bridged the gap to Meeusen and Walsleben went straight to the front. As they hit the finishing straight, they slowed down and this allowed Pauwels and later a few more riders to make it across.

 

Meeusen used the small lull to make a new attack and as no one reacted, he again found himself as the lone leader of the race. Nys stayed on the front of the main group but as he didn't ride full gas, more riders made it back to the main group.

 

Nys and Pauwels escape

Nys, Pauwels, Walsleben, Bart Aernouts, van Amerongen, Van Aert, Peeters, Bina and Julien Taramarcaz were now the only riders remaining in the peloton but Nys was not content with the situation. The world champion made another acceleration to which only Pauwels could respond. The duo escaped in pursuit of Meeusen and as they started to work together, they gradually got closer to the lone leader.

 

Meeusen made a mistake in a muddy section and this allowed the two chasers to close the final bit of the gap. A front trio had now been created and they had a big gap over the peloton in which all riders had started to tire significantly.

 

A big gap

Nys led the front group across the line with four laps to go while Van Aert did the work in the chase group which was now more than 10 seconds behind. Bina was paying the price for his aggressive racing and had lost contact with the main group.

 

As they reached the barriers, Van Aert had a mechanical and this proved costly. The youngster was dropped by the main group and saw himself fall out of podium contention as he had to wait for a long time before reaching the pit zone.

 

Meeusen hangs on for dear life

On a steep climb, Pauwels made a small mistake and this saw him lose contact with his companions. As Nys was now turning on the screws, Meeusen was clearly on his limit as he hung on for dear life.

 

As they hit an easier section, Nys again slowed down and this allowed Pauwels to rejoin the leaders. However, no one dared to pass Nys who was in complete control as he rolled towards the next steep hills on the course.

 

Meeusen with another attack

Meeusen still had something left in reserve and he launched a new attack. Nys refused to respond and asked Pauwels to come through. The Sunweb rider bridged across to Meeusen while Nys surprisingly was riding a few metres behind the leaders.

 

Nys made it back to the leaders on the finishing straight but nobody responded when Pauwels attacked. He crossed the line with a 5-second gap over Meeusen and Nys while the next group was now more than 20 seconds in arrears.

 

Nys stays calm

Pauwels kept extending his advantage in the first part of the next lap but apparently Nys was content with the situation. The world champion was staying on Meeusen' wheel while Pauwels was now no longer in sight.

 

Finally, Nys decided that it was time to give it a go. In a muddy section, he went back to the front and proved his class immediately. Meeusen was again struggling just to keep up with the veteran and Pauwels' advantage was again coming down rapidly.

 

Things are back together

In a matter of seconds, Nys and Meeusen had closed the gap and the trio was back together when they hit the finishing straight. Meeusen was quick to exploit the subsequent lull to launch a new attack but Pauwels brought things back together. Walsleben, van Amerongen, Bart Aernouts and van Aert - who had made it back to the group - were the next riders to cross the line, with a deficit of more than 30 seconds.

 

Meeusen and Pauwels both took turns on the front as they headed around the penultimate lap on the circuit while Nys was in complete control despite even allowing the duo to take a few metres. However, Meeusen was now tiring and when he made a mistake in the mud, Pauwels was allowed to go off the front.

 

Nys leads the leaders onto the final lap

That situation didn't suit Nys and so the world champion again took control to bring things back together. The trio set a modest pace for the rest of the lap and Nys led the group across the line. Walsleben and Aernouts were now their nearest chasers but although they had closed the gap slightly, they were no longer in podium contention.

 

Meeusen was back on the front early in the final lap and when Pauwels made a technical mistake, he briefly lost contact with his companions. No one was, however, riding full gas yet and things were back together as they headed up the first steep climbs.

 

Meeusen leads the group

Nys allowed Meeusen to take a few metres but when the gap became too big, he easily brought it back together. Everybody was now only waiting for the world champion to launch his decisive attack.

 

The trio almost came to a standstill as they spinned their legs while heading around the circuit. Meeusen remained in pole position, with Nys and Pauwels on his wheel.

 

Disaster for Meeusen

Disaster struck for Meeusen who had a mechanical and was forced to let his companions go. Just moments later, they hit a muddy a section and this was when Nys decided that it was time to end any speculation. The world champion made one short acceleration and that was enough for him to open a massive gap over Pauwels who had no response at all.

 

Nys settled into cruise mode and kept a steady pace for the remainder of the lap. As he entered the finishing straight, he had plenty of time to celebrate his win and raised his arms in triumphant fashion to win what could be his final race in the rainbow jersey.

 

Pauwels rolled across the line in 2nd while Meeusen had to sprint hard to secure 3rd place ahead of Walsleben and Aernouts. Van Amerongen was 6th, Taramarcaz 7th, van Aert 8th, Bosmans 9th and Dieter Vanthourenhout completed the top 10.

 

Results:

1. Sven Nys

2. Kevin Pauwels

3. Tom Meeusen

4. Philip Walsleben

5. Bart Aernouts

6. Thijs van Amerongen

7. Julien Taramarcaz

8. Wout van Aert

9. Wietse Bosmans

10. Dieter Vanthourenhout

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