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Erpe-Mere, Belgium, September 14, 2008

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Niels Albert on form in season start

By Brecht Decaluwé

Niels Albert (Palmans-Cras)
Photo ©: Isosport
(Click for larger image)

One week before the first North American UCI-race of the season the Belgian season officially traditionally kicked off with the A2 race in Erpe-Mere. All the best European riders were present except for world champion Lars Boom and UCI-leader Sven Nys who's taking a longer break after taking part in the Olympic cross country MTB race.

From last year one could learn that the top of cyclo-cross had widened as a lot of young riders like Lars Boom, Niels Albert and Zdenek Stybar started winning big races. If this race was an indication, the top names could be undergoing a permanent transformation as former world champions Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken and Richard Groenendaal learned today. While these riders had an off day it turned out that last year's winner Niels Albert was already on form in sunny and dry Erpe-Mere, which is the home town from the last Belgian Tour de France winner Lucien Van Impe.

The 22 year-old jumped away during the second lap and the rest of the field didn't see him again before the race had ended. Klaas Vantornout, who won in Dudzele last week, started a solo pursuit on Albert but as he didn't get any closer, he had to settle for second place. Sven Vanthourenhout, who is Vantornout's team-mate at Sunweb-Projob, won the battle for third place ahead of cousin Dieter Vanthourenhout, Rob Peeters and Bart Aernouts. Richard Groenendaal was the first non-Belgian at the seventh place, finishing just ahead of the Fidea leaders Wellens and Vervecken who disappointed today.

"This was a super Albert," the Sunweb riders who finished second and third admitted, "Niels' tempo was just set far too high for us." The winner explained that he had started very fast until he knew he had a good gap. "Then I consolidated my advantage and continued while keeping something in reserve," an amused Albert said to sport.be. Behind Albert there was an effort from Klaas Vantornout to join the front of the race but his efforts were in vain. "I didn't come any closer on Niels, on the contrary. Quickly I decided to focus on second place today," Vantornout said.

Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb Pro Job)
Photo ©: Isosport
(Click for larger image)

Behind the first two riders there was an interesting battle going on for the last podium spot. Sven Vanthourenhout and youngsters Dieter Vanthourenhout and Rob Peeters distanced themselves from the rest of the pack during the ultimate laps. Sven Vanthourenhout eventually got rid of the two young guys in the end. "I quickly found out that Niels was outstanding over here," Sven Vanthourenhout said. "Obviously when Klaas accelerated I kept the pedals still but apparently nobody could follow him. From then on I had the third place on my mind. Earlier participation learned me that I had to take the lead in the group and keep the tempo high during the ultimate lap. Mission accomplished," he concluded.

Winner Niels Albert – who was using an electrical shifting system - wasn't over-excited after his strong performance in Erpe-Mere. "For the first time in three years I had a good summer, so during the previous months I realised that I made progress. Today was an example of that knowledge; I was playing with the pedals," Albert said. The competition shouldn't worry too much as it is still about a month to go before the first big race of the year, but Albert did have some sort of warning for his rivals. "I didn't have any power training yet, so I'm hoping to become a bit stronger during the next few weeks..."


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by foto Isosport


Elite men
1 Niels Albert (Bel) Palmans Cras
2 Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb Pro Job
3 Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel) Sunweb Pro Job
4 Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) Palmans Cras
5 Rob Peeters (Bel) Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner
6 Bart Aernouts (Bel) Rabobank Continental
7 Richard Groenendaal (Ned) AA Cycling Team
8 Bart Wellens (Bel) Fidea Cycling Team
9 Erwin Vervecken (Bel) Fidea Cycling Team
10 Gerben De Knegt (Ned) Rabobank Continental
11 Davy Commeyne (Bel) Revor Cycling Team
12 Jan Soetens (Bel) Revor Cycling Team
13 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Fidea Cycling Team
14 Wesley Van Der Linden (Bel) Sunweb Pro Job
15 Ben Berden (Bel) Revor Cycling Team
16 Tim Van Nuffel (Bel) Easypay
17 Philipp Walsleben (Ger) Palmans Cras
18 Jan Verstraeten (Bel) Sunweb Pro Job
19 Mariusz Gil (Pol)
20 Marco Bianco (Ita)
21 Lukas Kloucek (Cze) Sunweb Pro Job
22 David Willemsens (Bel) Revor Cycling Team
23 Bjorn Rondelez (Bel)
24 Dave De Cleyn (Bel)
25 Jens Westergren (Swe) Falu Cykelklubb
26 Jan Van Dael (Bel) Sunweb Pro Job
27 Stijn Huys (Bel) Palmans Cras
28 Stijn Penne (Bel)
29 Patrick Van Leeuwen (Ned)
30 Gianni Denolf (Bel) Palmans Cras Palmans-Cras
31 Kenneth Van Compernolle (Bel) Sunweb Pro Job
32 Sven Verboven (Bel) Palmans Cras Wielerclub Galmaarden Sportief
33 Patrick Bassez (Bel)
34 Steve Gruwier (Bel)
35 Robby Cobbaert (Bel)
36 Matthias Onghena (Bel) VZW Wielerclub Onder Ons - Parike
37 Nick De Proost (Bel) DCM-GB Vorselaar Cycling Team VZW
38 Tom De Smet (Bel)
39 Roman Sedimair (Ger)
40 Julien Theron (Fra)

Past winners

2006 Sven Nys (Bel) Rabobank
2005 Bart Wellens (Bel)
2004 Sven Nijs (Bel) Rabobank
Past winners by Mario Stiehl, www.world-of-cycling.com