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MOL, Belgium (VN) — Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) won the Belgian cyclocross championship on Sunday, escaping a powerful lead group at the pits on the final lap of a very fast course.
Vantornout was clearly on a good day, storming away on the first lap, followed by Rob Peeters (Telenet), as behind, defending champ Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) marked world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus).
On the last lap, the two were in the company of Nys, Albert and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb), with a resurgent Bart Wellens (Telenet) just behind.
Then Vantornout pried open a small gap on a pair of short, sharp climbs, and legging it into the pit for a fresh bike he had a handful of seconds over the others.
He held his advantage going onto the finishing straight, and after a couple quick glances over one shoulder, Vantornout began rhythmically punching the air, one fist after another, as he coasted across the line for the title.
Nys had to settle for second on the day, with Pauwels third.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Vantornout. “It was a very good day — not just a good day, the whole season I have been riding on a very high level, and today I had the feeling that the others like Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels, were a little bit less.
“They didn’t have a top day, and today I had it, and it was my chance to take the Belgian jersey.”
A fast start
Vantornout and Peeters took a gap of 11 seconds into the second lap. Albert was leading a large chase with Pauwels on his wheel.
The world champion dragged the others up to the leaders and Peeters took the sharp end of what was a pretty good-sized group.
With seven laps to race Vantornout took off again, and he proved harder to catch this time. He said afterward that he rode aggressively from the gun because “if it wasn’t good for me it would be good for Kevin.”
Again Albert led the pursuit, with Peeters on his wheel. And once again he dragged the others up to the leader, just past the pits.
With six to go the lead group was down to Peeters, Vantornout, Albert, Nys, Wellens and Bart Aernouts (AA Drink).
Wellens — who seemed back to his old self — had a go past the lake, but Vantornout marked him and Albert quickly shut down the move.
With five to go Albert was on point and the leaders had shed Aernouts. The world champ briefly trimmed the lead group to four with a surge at lakeside, but Wellens and Pauwels fought back on as the lap ground to a close.
The leaders declared something of a cease-fire for a lap, and then Pauwels showed himself with three to go, charging away at the line with Wellens for company. They pried open a small gap, but the indefatigable Albert nailed them back once again, though the repeated efforts were clearly taking their toll.
Albert hears clock ticking
Perhaps sensing that it was now or never, Albert tried to lose the others with two laps remaining. But Vantornout went with him.
“Every attack I was in the front, first with Rob Peeters, then with Niels Albert,” said Vantornout. “He was good, but if you can follow him for four or five laps, then you know he’s mentally not so strong.”
Albert stayed on the front, Vantornout on his wheel. Behind, Nys escaped the others and it was briefly a three-man group at the head of affairs as they hit the pits.
But going into bell lap the others had rejoined and Peeters led a five-man group containing Vantornout, Albert, Nys and Pauwels.
Vantornout seals the deal
Vantornout took over the front at lakeside as Wellens drove back toward the leaders. Peeters shouldered his way into the front on a snaky bit, but Vantornout took it back, with Albert sitting third, followed by Nys and Pauwels.
Vantornout attacked again, forcing Peeters to chase with Albert and Nys in his wake. The lanky Sunweb rider quickly built a three-second lead going over the short, sharp climbs preceding the pit, and by the time he shot out of it Nys was in second place, five seconds behind, with Albert fading and Pauwels making a move that would be too little, too late.
Checking twice to see that he wasn’t dreaming, Vantornout turned to face the cameras and began his finish-line celebration well in advance of the actual line. Behind, Nys bowed to the inevitable second place — while Pauwels rolled in to round out the podium.
Nothing for Albert, regrets for Nys
Albert — who did so much of the work during the race, either as the race leader or chief chaser, didn’t even make the podium in the end, finishing fourth.
Nys, meanwhile, was regretting what might have been, though he professed himself “happy” with second place.
“My last lap was not what I do normally. I was not aggressive enough, I think,” he said. “I need to be second or third position when we get to the last sand section, but today I was fourth and I had to close the gap on Klaas and he was running really fast.
“If I had been in second position I think I would have won the race, but that’s a mistake I made. Maybe the reason is that I was sick the last two weeks and mentally I wasn’t so aggressive as the weeks before. That’s the only reason I think I didn’t win today. Physically, I think I was strong enough.”
Earlier in the day, Sanne Cant (Enetherm-BKCP) defended her women’s title, soloing to the victory ahead of Ellen Vna Loy and Joyce Vanderbeken.
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.