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The Czech goes head to head with Nys in fascinating battle and manages to escape for a third title when the Belgian makes a mistake on a descent

Photo: Feltet.dk

CYCLO-CROSS

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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS - CROSS

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ZDENEK STYBAR

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02.02.2014 @ 16:12 Posted by Jesper Johannesen

Zdenek Stybar justified his late decision to ride the World Cyclo-Cross Championships when he came out triumphant in a close battle with defending champion Sven Nys to take his third rainbow jersey in the discipline. The duo rode most of the race together, with Nys appearing to have the upper hand, but a costly mistake on the final lap allowed the Czech to get a small gap that he was never going to lose.

 

Prior to the world championships Zdenek Stybar had been in doubt whether he would do the race as it interfered with his preparation for the road season and he always insisted that he would only be on the start line if he felt he could be in contention for the podium. Having announced his intention to ride just a few days ago, the Czech kept his promise as he rode away with his only win in a big cyclo-cross race this season, in the race that matters more than all other.

 

Stybar went head to head with defending champion Sven Nys who appeared to have everything under control throughout the entire race. The duo had been joined by home hero Lars van der Haahr and Francis Mourey early on but were quickly left to battle it out on their own.

 

Nys led for most of the time, with Stybar launching a few fierce attacks along the way. On a couple of occasions, Stybar was clearly in difficulty, especially in the technical sections, but he always managed to recover the lost ground in the power sections.

 

Stybar was even unlucky to crash on the penultimate lap, allowing Nys to open a gap that appeared to be decisive. However, the defending champion made a mistake on his own just a few minutes later, allowing Stybar to get back in contention.

 

All was set for a fascinating battle on the final lap, with Stybar launching a fierce attack. Nys didn't appear to be in too much trouble but it all changed when he made a mistake on a muddy descent.

 

Stybar quickly opened a big gap and with less than half a lap to go, Nys had not enough time to get back in contention. He rode hard, taking a lot of risks, but finally admitted defeat. Instead of taking a third Worlds title, it was Stybar who will wear the coveted jersey for the third time of his career.

 

"It was a really, really hard race," Stybar said in the post-race interview. "I crashed one time. At that moment, I thought it was over.

 

"My plan was to make it a hard race. I had nothing to lose. I had to come back from the start. It was a really hard effort. Then I thought "Now I just go hard and see where I end."

 

Stybar said that he benefited from less pressure.

 

"It's maybe different when you are a full-time cyclo-cross racer," he said. "I didn't feel it was a world championships. I was just enjoying the race to see if I could reach the podium.

 

"I thought that it was a circuit that would suit me but I never thought that I would come away with the win."

 

Kevin Pauwels rode a solid race at his own pace, gradually coming back from a slow start to take his third Worlds bronze medal. In general, the Belgians recovered from a disastrous beginning to again impose their dominance by placing 6 riders in the top 7.

 

While Stybar will now end his cyclo-cross season to focus on the Tour of Qatar, the best riders will be back in action next weekend at the Krawatencross in Belgium.

 

Fast start for Mourey

Francis Mourey (France) was generally described as one of the favourites for the race and he showed his intentions right from the start, sprinting down the opening straight ot take the fron in front of local hero Lars van der Haahr (the Netherlands). Sven Nys (Belgium) who usually starts a bit slowly, was riding solidly in 7th position.

 

Van der Haahr made a costly mistake when he allowed Martin Bina  (Czech Republic) to pass him. Moments later, the Czech slid out on a descent, bringing down both himself and the local hero.

 

Nys riding near the front

The crash meant that Mourey opened up a gap as the crash happened right behind. The peloton was now led by Thijs van Amerongen (the Netherlands) while Nys had moved into 3rd ahead of Rob Peeters (Belgium) and van der Haahr who hadn't lost much ground.

 

One of the question marks for the race was Zdenek Stybar's condition but the Czech appeared to be right on form. Having started a little bit back in the peloton, he started to move up, passing van der Haahr to move into 4th place in the peloton.

 

Mourey is caught

Nys didn't want to risk anything by allowing Mourey to get too much of a gap and so he went straight to the front to quickly reel him back in. Behind the peloton had started to splinter as Mourey, Nys, van Amerongen, Peeters, van der Haahr and Stybar making up the front group.

 

While Mourey continued to set the pace, Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland) managed to latch onto the back of the front group while Klaas Vantornout (Belgium) and Wietse Bosmans (Belgium) were chasing behind. When they hit the finishing straight, Stybar attacked and crossed the line with a 2-second gap while Vantornout and Bosmans were 4 seconds further behind.

 

Nys responds

Nys knew that Stybar posed a threat and he was quick to respond to his attack. He set a fierce pace that no one could match, showing impressing strength when he easily bridged across to the Czech leader. Meanwhile, Peeters and Taramarcaz had been dropped from the chase group.

 

With Nys back up to Stybar, the pace slowed down, allowing van der Haahr to close gap. Van Amerongen and Mourey were struggling hard as they tried to erase those final metres that still separated them from the three leaders.

 

Mourey rejoins the leaders

Stybar continued to set the pace but was clearly not going full gas. Mourey managed to close the gap, making it a 4-rider lead group consisting of the 4 biggest pre-race favourites.

 

Van der Haahr wanted to change his bike in the pits but had bad luck to crash in the process. While Stybar continued to motor away on the front, the Dutch rider now find himself in chase mode.

 

Albert far behind

As they neared the end of the second lap, Nys hit the front while van der Haahr was gradually getting closer to  the leaders. Meanwhile, an out-of-form Niels Albert was riding on his own, far behind the front, and it already appeared to be game over for the world champion.

 

As they passed the finish line for the second time, van der Haahr had rejoined the leaders. Philipp Walsleben (Germany) and Vantornout led the first chase group across the line with a time deficit of 6 seconds while Albert was in 14th, 28 seconds behind.

 

Nys tightens the screws

Nys kept the pace high on the third lap. While Stybar was glued to his wheel, Mourey and van der Haahr were clearly struggling and started to lose ground.

 

Nys didn't appear to be going full gas but he was clearly applying the pressure. Stybar was digging deep to stay on his wheel but was saved by the pits where Nys decided to change his bike.

 

Van der Haahr rejoins the leaders

The pace slowed down for a short while which allowed to van der Haahr to close the gap. However, the Dutchman didn't get any time to breathe as Stybar launched an immediate and very hard attack.

 

Stybar was unable to shake Nys, forcing him to again slow down. Van der Haahr managed to get back onto their wheels while Mourey was chasing hard a few seconds behind.

 

Mourey is back

When they hit the finishing straight, no one wanted to do the work and so Mourey rejoined the leaders. Van der Haahr finally took the iniative, leading the group across the line. Their nearest chasers were 17 seconds behind and contained no less than 5 Belgians (Vantornout, Pauwels, Meeusen, Peeters and Bosmans) among its 7 members, with Radomir Simunek (the Czech Republic) and Walsleben being the only non-Belgian chasers. Albert was still in 14th, now almost 40 seconds back.

 

Nys hit the front again when they started the 4th lap and again started to tighten the screws. While he was still keeping something in reserve, Nys did enough to send Mourey out the back door.

 

Pauwels and Vantornout set sights on bronze

As Nys continued his pace-setting, van der Haahr also lost contact while Stybar also started to show signs of weakness. Meanwhile, Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) had separated themselves from the chase group and were now riding in 5th and 6th position.

 

Van der Haahr and Mourey were now starting to tire and both were now losing ground at a rapid pace. On the other hand, Pauwels had found into his rhythm and with his sights set on the bronze medal, he caught up with Mourey.

 

Van der Haahr 12 seconds behind

As Stybar and Nys crossed the line at the halfway point, van der Haahr was 12 seconds behind while Pauwels had already dropped Mourey and was 6 seconds further behind. Stybar signaled for Nys to come through but the reigning world champion refused until they again hit the mud.

 

Nys led during the early part of the lap until Stybar decided that it was time to give it another try. However, Nys had no difficulty responding to his attack and the duo stayed together.

 

Pauwels catches van der Haahr

Behind, Pauwels had now caught up with van der Haahr and appeared to be one of the strongest riders on the course. He latched onto the wheel of the home favourite and took a short breather after his hard chase.

 

Stybar made another attempt at getting rid of Nys but had no success and when the duo crossed the line for the 5th time, Nys was back on the front. Van der Haahr and Pauwels were 20 seconds behind while Mourey was about to get caught by Meeusen and Vantornout.

 

Mistake by Stybar

Nys acceleated when they again hit the mud and this forced Stybar to make a mistake. The Czech lost a few metres but had to go hard to get back up to the cyclo-cross king.

 

Pauwels and van der Haahr hit each other, forcing both to come down. As Pauwels had to stop to adjust his bike, he could see van der Haahr disappear into the horizon. Just at the same time, Meeusen who had caught Mourey hit the deck but was quickly back on the bike.

 

Pauwels gets back

Pauwels was clearly riding well and had no trouble closing the gap to van der Haahr. Meanwhile, it was still Nys setting the pace in the front group, with the Belgian setting a constant, hard rhythm.

 

Halfway through the lap, it started to take its toll on Stybar who was now grimacing as he tried to stay on the wheels of Nys. As Nys also showed superior technical skills in the corners, he finally got rid of his rival, opening up a small gap.

 

Stybar refuses to give up

Impressively, Stybar refused to give up and when he again hit a straight section, he rejoined Nys. Behind, Vantornout was riding his own race and got back up to van der Haahr and Pauwels before leaving both of them behind.

 

In the front group, Nys made his first small mistake but it didn't have any serious consequences. The duo stayed together as they crossed the line to start the penultimate lap, with Stybar again hitting the front. Vantornout was next, with Pauwels having left van der Haahr behind in 4th place.

 

Stybar crashes!

Stybar got the worst possible start to the lap when he crashed and even though he was quick to get back up, he spent the first half of the lap in chase mode before finally closing the gap. However, he had to spent some time on Nys' wheel to recover from his chase.

 

Nys upped the pace a bit further on a climb and as Stybar still hadn't caught his breath, he was again dropped by the Belgian. This time the gap was biggest yet and it appeared as though the decision had been made.

 

Nys crashes!

However, Nys did what he usually doesn't do: he made a technical mistake in a muddy corner. He hit the deck and before he was back on his bike, he had been rejoined by Stybar.

 

Stybar was quick to exploit the opportunity to attack and Nys had to dig a little deeper to stay on his wheel. Meanwhile, Pauwels had again passed Vantornout and appeared to be on his way to a third bronze medal.

 

An exciting duel on the final lap

Nys was back on the front during the final part of the lap and he led the front duo across the line for the penultimate time. Pauwels was 28 seconds behind, Vantornout was at 37 seconds while van der Haahr was still in medal contention as he was only 4 seconds further adrift.

 

Nys did all the work in the early part of the lap until Stybar decided that it was time to test the Belgian. The Czech sprinted hard to the front and set a furious pace but Nys was always on his wheel.

 

Costly mistake for Nys

Stybar remained on the front, forcing Nys to run up a climb that we have usually ridden. As soon as they got over the top, Nys made a mistake on the descent and as this forced him to run, he lost contact with his Czech rival.

 

Stybar quickly opened up the biggest gap that had been between the two leaders and Nys was now running out of time if he wanted to defend his Worlds title. The Belgian took full risks in the corners, using his superior technical skills, and while he gradually got closer, the gap was still big.

 

Nys chases hard

Nys was doing his best on the final two run-ups but it was too late. Stybar entered the finishing straight with a gap of a few seconds, forcing Nys to shake his head and give up his third Worlds title.

 

Instead, it was Stybar who kissed his bike before soloing across the line for his third title, with Nys crossing the line in 2nd with a 12-second deficit.

 

Pauwels had ridden a fine final lap and was a solid 3rd while Vantornout and Meeusen made it 4 Belgians in the top 5. Van der Haahr could only managed 6th in his home race. Peeters, Mourey, Simunek and Bosmans completed the top 10.

 

Result:

1. Zdenek Stybar 1.05.30

2. Sven Nys +0.12

3. Kevin Pauwels +0.40

4. Klaas Vantornout +0.58

5. Tom Meeusen +1.07

6. Lars van der Haahr +1.21

7. Rob Peeters +1.42

8. Francis Mourey +1.52

9. Radomir Simunek +2.03

10. Wietse Bosmans +2.10

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