It has been a long wait for Sven Nys - though he has undisputedly been the best cross racer over the past ten years, he has not been able to take home a gold medal at the World Championships since 2005. Today, he finally prevailed, taking home a deserved win over fellow countryman Klaas Vantornout and this year's new sensation Lars van der Haar. It was a fitting victory for an ambassador of the sport who advocated for bringing the World Championships to Louisville in his role as the sport's rider representative to the UCI.
By the time the Elite Men lined up at 14:30, hardly any snow remained on the 2.8km circuit in Eva Badman Park in Louisville, Kentucky. Previously frozen ground had thawed, releasing its moisture into the still warm ground underneath and creating ever thickening and rutted mud. Off the start line, the race almost resembled the 2012 World Championships in Koksijde with Rob Peeters taking the holeshot off the pavement followed by a long line of light blue skinsuits. Peters was soon replaced in the lead by teammate Klaas Vantornout, who was then passed by the Czech Republic's Martin Bina and then France's Francis Mourey.
Bina, surprise winner of the final World Cup at Hoogerheide, seemed over anxious and started to fall back after a lap. Mourey, however, looked to be on an inspired performance, prying out a 14 second lead over Kevin Pauwels - one of the heaviest pre-race favorites - by the end of the second lap. Although Mourey wins little at the very highest level of the sport, he is a quality rider with a third place finish at the World Cup in Koksijde this year, which lent an air of credibility to his gap.
Mourey's plan was surely to get out in front, able to dictate his own lines, and wait for the front of the race to come back to him. By the midway point of the race, it had in the form of Pauwels, Vantornout, and Nys. Behind, Niels Albert dangled some five seconds back in fifth with Lars van der Haar overcoming a slow start to sit in sixth, slowly closing in on the front of the race.
After some shadow boxing, Vantornout and Nys broke free after Pauwels had yet another disappointing mechanical after a season of misfortune, dropping his chain and getting it stuck at the bottom of one of the two sharp climbs preceding the finish. While Pauwels struggled to put his chain back on - and once again on the paved finishing stretch - Albert and a host of other riders slipped past him. After losing over a minute and a half due to his problems, Pauwels would finish the race in 12th position.
Vantornout took responsibility for prying out the gap to the rest of the race, occasionally replaced by Nys, over the next two laps. Coming into the final two laps, the duo had a sizeable gap over Niels Albert in third and Lars van der Haar in fourth. Several times Nys opened a small gap through the barriers by bunny hopping them while Vantornout ran, but each time he was shut down. Coming into the final lap, Vantornout lead with Nys contentedly sitting behind waiting to pounce. Nys passed before the descent and turn into the limestone steps and had several bike lengths gap that grew as Vantornout ran his bike too close to the barricades along the side of the course and snagged a pedal momentarily. The gap to Nys was two seconds at maximum at the barriers, but Sven pried open the gap again there and built a lead that topped out around five seconds coming into the final turn. The reknown master was emotional on the finishing straight while a dejected Vantornout banged his bars in frustration a few seconds in arrears. Behind, Albert faded and van der Haar took the final step on the podium, ecstatically crossing the lines with three fingers held aloft to signify the Junior, U23, and Elite Women's titles his countrymen and women had won earlier in the day. This result was the cherry atop a stellar opening season in the elite ranks for the two-time U23 world champion.
After much fanfare and a promising start by Jonathan Page, who sat between 9th-11th for a long time, the American contingent was led home by Timothy Johnson in 19th place. The lack of a top-5 or top-10 result may sting some, especially after the bad luck Ryan Trebon and Page appeared to have in the final laps of the race, but all riders were still ecstatic about the experience of finally having Worlds on home soil. Johnson quipped he was so inspired by the crowds he dearly wanted to ride another lap.
|3||VAN DER HAAR Lars||NED19910723||NETHERLANDS||+00:25|
|7||SIMUNEK Radomir||CZE19830906||CZECH REPUBLIC||+01:15|
|9||VAN AMERONGEN Thijs||NED19860718||NETHERLANDS||+01:31|
|10||BINA Martin||CZE19830521||CZECH REPUBLIC||+01:41|