I have a tendency to start these quick reports with the words ‘What a day’ but today proved to be very exciting again. The weather forecast promised cold but sunny weather and it was exactly what greeted me at Lievin. I got there after an unusually short drive and got started straight away.
Maybe it’s just me but the French seem to have a special style when it comes to course design – today’s course reminded me largely to the World Cup course at Nommay, two years ago. It was fast with long straights, not particularly technical, but because it’s fast, certain ascents/descents can be pretty tricky. Anyway, it seemed like a good day.
The U23 race was my first one and while Lars Van Der Haar’s dominance wasn’t surprising, the number of laps they did was – it’s quite unusual that the ‘beloftens’ would do 8 laps.
The women’s race started just like any other race: Marianne Vos started strong and tried to pull away from the field with Daphny Van Den Brand in tow. Come lap three and to my utter surprise Van Den Brand led the race, Vos not too far behind and they were closely followed by a smaller group, containing Caroline Mani, Helen Wyman and a couple of other riders. As rewatching the race revealed, both Vos and Van Den Brand went down in a muddy corner and that allowed their chasers to close the gap but that didn’t last long, the duo in white pulled away again and didn’t stop until the end – another impressive Vos win.
And then came the elite men’s race. After the initial commotion, Zdenek Stybar and Kevin Pauwels pulled away from the field and only Dieter Vantourenhout and Radomir Simunek were able to follow them. As the race progressed, Stybar and Pauwels comfortably made the gap bigger and bigger and it became obvious that one of the would be the winner. ‘But where is Nys and Albert?’ – that was the question most of us asked from ourselves. Nys looked slightly bored and pedalled to a fourth place – it keeps him in contention for the overall World Cup win but his chance is rather mathematical than a real one. Albert didn’t look too convincing either – the question is whether they were just taking it easy in preparation for the Worlds or they were genuinely tired.
In the meantime, Stybar kept attacking Pauwels and the decisive moment came in the last lap: Pauwels slipped on one of the descents and went down. It didn’t hurt him but it did hold him up and he lost a couple of seconds. This mistake proved to be a key one as Stybar stepped up the pace and rode to his second big win of the season. Upon crossing the finishing line, the understandably happy Czech lifted up in the air his new, pink Specialized and walked a few paces. Not much later another happy Czech crossed the finish line, a grinning (and very tired) Simunek was pleased with this third place, his best this season so far.
It was a great day and it was surprisingly warm in the afternoon but I didn’t like the course and I didn’t have a great day either, so I’m not 100% happy with my photos, I need to work harder next week to find better angles. Next will be very exciting and busy, I’ll be visiting the Bioracer premises to shoot a special feature on the factory for my new book and then it’s the last World Cup race at Hoogerheide on Sunday, so stay tuned for some more cyclo-cross action.