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NIEL, Belgium (VN) — World champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) launched a late attack to win the Jaarmarktcross in Niel on Saturday.
Albert had been part of a three-man lead group going into the bell lap — a group he destroyed with an astounding burst of speed just past the pits. Almost immediately he had a 20-second advantage over Bart Aernouts (AA Drink) and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), and he would not be brought back.
The rainbow jersey sailed alone across the line to win round two of the Soudal Classics series while Aernouts — third at last week’s Superprestige round in Zonhoven — took second ahead of Nys.
Band on the run
The 2.9km course was as much footrace as bike race. There was a ton of running — with long stretches of mud, a zig-zag series of ups and downs, and a short, steep, barely rideable hill.
Radomir Simunek (BKCP) took the hole shot and led into the first long stretch of thick mud, which saw nearly the entire field running just seconds after the start. Once everyone was finally on their bikes first Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea), then Simunek led the field.
The first lap saw a mad scramble for the front, with Wellens, Aurélian Duval (UV Aube) and Albert trading point. Albert, Simunek and Nys hopped the haybale barriers, and a 10-man group hit the cobbles leading to the start-finish for the end of lap one.
Aernouts on fire
Aernouts rode into the lead following the next long muddy run, which saw quite a few riders hitting the pits. Duval moved into second, and an eight-man group containing Albert and Nys formed up behind.
Aernouts rode away from Duval as Albert closed in, while Nys moved forward into fourth. At the barriers Duval was the only one of the four to dismount — the others bunny-hopped them with ease.
Going into lap three with five to go the quartet had an eight-second advantage over a six-man chase that wasn’t looking particularly organized. Nys took the front, followed by Albert, who was able to ride where Nys ran — until he bobbled on that barely rideable hill and the Belgian champ rocketed past with Duval in tow.
Albert and Aernouts followed in third and fourth, the world champ dragging the two back up to the leaders.
Wellens and Wietse Bosmans (BKCP) were chasing in fifth and sixth, and the Telenet rider nearly biffed it on a greasy descent, pogoing off one outstretched leg to stay upright.
But stay upright he did, and he had bridged to the leaders as they hit the line with four laps left to race. Francis Mourey (FDJ) led the pursuit, nearly 20 seconds down.
Aernouts took the front next and railed it, riding quite a bit of that first long, muddy run. Then Albert took over, followed by Nys and Duval.
Albert and Nys lost Duval on the barely rideable hill as the Frenchman had to leap off and push, and it was a two-man lead group with a four-second advantage. Behind, Bosmans had a tremendous crash, flying headlong over the bars just ahead of the zig-zag section.
A two-man race
Going through the pits it seemed that Duval had finally run out of steam — he was a dozen seconds behind Albert and Nys, who had begun lapping the back-markers. Wellens and Aernouts were chasing in third and fourth.
On a flat stretch the leaders glanced over their shoulders to gauge the strength and composition of the chase, then got back to business.
At the barriers the gritty Wellens took a slight gap over Aernouts and Duval. Aernouts fought back on, and with three laps remaining it was Albert in the lead with Nys second and the Wellens-Aernouts chase closing in Duval had slipped to fifth, eight seconds down.
Three to go: Albert and Nys both hit the pits and Wellens finally closed the gap, with Aernouts right behind. And then the Telenet rider took the lead.
Nys says no
The Belgian champ was having none of that — he took it right back, led Albert up the climb and Wellens slipped back to third, running where the others rode. Aernouts was dangling a few bike lengths back.
At the zig-zags the four were back together. Duval seemed to have found a second wind and was hanging tough just a half-dozen seconds back.
Then Nys accelerated in the mud and he and Albert distanced the others going into the barriers. Behind, Mourey had caught up to his countryman Duval and the two were chasing together.
With two laps remaining the lead quartet had reformed with a 16-second advantage over the French pursuit.
Wellens takes point
Once again Wellens took charge, followed by Nys, Albert and Aernouts. All four ran the long muddy stretch, and Nys and Albert pitted, but the others gave it a miss, and Aernouts moved into the lead.
The AA Drink rider lost his lead briefly on the hill, as Wellens finally fell off the pace. But Aernouts fought back to the front and looked to be in charge of the group — until Albert laid down a powerful attack. Nys followed but Aernouts was gapped. At the barriers he was already seconds behind.
Bell lap: Albert exchanged words with Nys as the two hit the cobbles preceding the start of the final lap, giving Aernouts a chance to catch back on — and attack through the start-finish. Barring catastrophe this would be the podium.
All three ran the mud; Nys and Albert pitted, but Aernouts did not, and he slipped to third as the others grabbed fresh bikes.
And then Albert fired off a blistering attack running out of the pit. Neither Nys nor Aernouts could match the world champion as he powered toward the hill, up and over, and away. He had a 20-second lead almost instantly.
Albert pitted once more on the backside as Aernouts led Nys in pursuit, but they were out of the hunt for the top spot on the podium. First place was gone.
With the win out of reach, Nys seemed to lose interest in the chase — perhaps thinking of Sunday’s Superprestige round at Hamme-Zogge — and Aernouts rode away from him as behind, Wellens was nipping at the Belgian champ’s heels. Nys would hold for the last spot on the podium, but only just.
American Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) finished 18th at 5:31.