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OVERIJSE, Belgium (VN) — Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) slipped, slid and stormed to a third consecutive victory in the Druivencross at Overijse on Sunday.
Nys took the lead from Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), riding into a steep, greasy run-up as Vantornout dismounted early, and never surrendered it.
World champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) joined Vantornout in pursuit, but the two could make no headway as Nys ground along at the front on a heavy, treacherous circuit, seemingly either rising or falling, redesigned to make it even tougher than its predecessors.
“It’s a race where you can show your power, show your technique, and for me those are the races I like most,” said Nys. “They’re also races that, in the end of the season, it’s the stories of these races that come back. Those are the races I want to win.”
Albert eventually shed Vantornout and rode alone to second on the day, 27 seconds down. Vantornout held on for third at 50 seconds despite sliding out on a slick patch.
Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb), winner of Saturday’s Scheldecross, got off to a poor start and was never a factor on Sunday, finishing ninth, nearly three minutes down.
Big group forms early
A loose seven-man group formed up on the first lap, including Nys; Albert and teammates Radomir Simunek and Marcel Meisen; Vantornout; Thijs van Amerongen (AA Drink); and Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea).
Van Amerongen led the group across the line and into the second lap as Bart Aernouts (AA Drink) headed a big chase at 12 seconds, with Pauwels at the back.
Then Vantornout took charge of the front group, with Van Amerongen and Albert in his wake and Nys sitting fifth. As the lanky Sunweb rider set the pace, Nys moved up a spot into fourth, while Albert edged into the runner-up position.
Going into the third lap Vantornout led Albert, van Amerongon, Nys, Meisen and Peeters. Pauwels was already down a half minute, riding with Aernouts.
Nys climbed past Van Amerongen and into third, then began the long, winding descent. When Albert lost the line on the next greasy descent and went into the course tape, the Belgian champion slipped into second, while Van Amerongen moved into third.
Albert had a little trouble getting started again — he would later blame pedal problems — and both he and van Amerongen pitted as Vantornout and Nys kept riding, forging a six-second gap.
The world champion moved ahead of van Amerongen and began what would prove to be a long, fruitless chase.
Two chasing two
With four to go Vantornout led Nys, followed 11 seconds later by Albert and van Amerongen.
But when Vantornout dismounted early for a steep run-up Nys rode past him and into the lead. Shortly thereafter the Sunweb rider slipped in a corner crowded by scaffolding, then struggled in a heavy, muddy stretch, and Nys was gone for good.
Behind, Albert left van Amerongen and began closing in on Vantornout, who was already seven seconds behind Nys.
A half-hour into the race, with three laps remaining, Nys has 11 seconds over Vantornout, who was only a few seconds ahead of Albert. A dejected Pauwels trailed at 1:13, completely out of the hunt.
Albert finally caught Vantornout, then took a small lead over him, but Nys continued to grind relentlessly along at the front, and with two laps to go he led the rainbow jersey by 11 seconds, with Vantornout a further six seconds down.
Barring catastrophe the podium was complete — Nys rode alone into the final lap, with Albert likewise riding solo at 15 seconds down. Vantornout, too, was on his own, more than a half-minute behind.
And that’s the way it would stay. Nys had ample time to salute the crowd at the finish as he collected his 11th victory of the season and his third consecutive win at the Druivencross, saying afterward that on such courses he was in his element.
“It wasn’t not so easy to win,” Nys said. “I felt that Niels was strong today, and it was every lap a gap of just 12, 13, 14 seconds. It’s not so easy to stay focused and make no mistakes.
“He was strong today, but at the end of the race when he came back, it was not a problem, because I think I’m faster in the sprint. So that was mentally, of course, really important for me, that I knew I could beat him in the sprint.”
Asked whether he had a psychological advantage over his rivals, Nys replied that his age was a factor.
“I’m the oldest, I’m normally not the guy you expect to win these races. I’m 10 years older [than Niels] and that’s mentally hard for them. And for me, I can be relaxed, and the more races I win, the more relaxed I feel,” he said. “So I need to be focused, rest well, train well, and I should be able to hold this form to the end of the season.
“We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’m not getting injured or sick, and then it should be possible to stay in good shape.”
• Jonathan Page raced despite being sick all week. He said he had been on antibiotics for a couple of days and was starting to feel a little bit better on Sunday. But after two punctures, one low on the course and far from the pit, he could only manage 20th place. “It was fine, but next week is my target. I could breathe a lot better today than yesterday, so I’m on the mend,” he said. “It was the kind of course I liked. I thought it was quite fun and challenging. It was really hard, lots of running. If you make a mistake, it’s like, kaboom, you go down hard. So all I cared about was that I stayed upright after a while.”
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.