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Joris Nieuwenhuis took victory in the men's race at Superprestige Merksplas
Superprestige Merksplas: Joris Nieuwenhuis takes victory after unstoppable solo effort
Eli Iserbyt wins dramatic battle for second behind dominant ride from Dutch rider
After narrowly missing out on victory in the last round in Niel, Joris Nieuwenhuis (Baloise Trek Lions) turned his fate around at the Superprestige Merksplas, taking the race up in the first lap and holding on for victory after a long and skillful solo effort.
Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was in second behind Nieuwenhuis for almost the entire race, but was overtaken a resurgent Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) in the final lap, who came home strong for second place as Vandeputte settled for third.
After a lengthy battle with Iserbyt, and briefly looking like he might take second place, Felipe Orts (Spain) continued his impressive season with fourth.
Nieuwenhuis’ win marks the first time Iserbyt has been beaten in the Superprestige this season, having won the opening three rounds, but his second place on Saturday ensured he will continue to lead the overall rankings.
Nieuwenhuis unstoppable as Iserbyt fights his way back up
It was a fast and aggressive start in the men’s race in Merksplas, with Niels Vandeputte and Joris Nieuwenhuis taking up the pace-setting duties in the opening lap. The pair quickly stretched out the bunch and took up the leading two positions, with Eli Iserbyt close behind in the third spot as a small handful of riders drew clear of the rest of the race early on.
Nieuwenhuis, second in the previous round of the Superprestige, was clearly keen to make up for his close defeat in Niel and pushed ahead solo into the second lap, putting five seconds into Vandeputte going into lap 2. The Dutch rider was riding very well, and held his lead over his Belgian chaser with a skillful traverse through the tricky wooded section.
Behind, Iserbyt was warming up after a slower start, trying to drop Felipe Orts (Spain) and go in pursuit of Vandeputte and Nieuwenhuis but struggling to make any real inroads, whilst up front Nieuwenhuis looked unshakeable.
By the end of the fourth lap, Nieuwenhuis had pulled out a lead of 25 seconds over Vandeputte, whilst Orts and Iserbyt still trailed the second-placed rider by 15 seconds. Whilst other riders made a few errors and stalled in the thick, deep mud, Nieuwenhuis’ advantage came from how few mistakes he made, taking the difficult course on with smooth ease.
In the battle for the podium, Orts wasn’t letting Iserbyt go anywhere, and was actually leading the pair as the Belgian looked to slightly lose his rhythm - perhaps surprising as Iserbyt was, until Saturday, unbeaten in the Superprestige series.
At the end of the fifth lap, Nieuwenhuis was extending his lead, whilst Orts had dropped Iserbyt and sat in provisional third by 10 seconds. The Spaniard was carrying a lot of momentum, and was closing the gap to Vandeputte over the fifth lap.
Though Nieuwenhuis looked assured of victory, the battle for second really heated up heading into the final lap, with Iserbyt recovering to come round Orts and chase down Vandeputte. Despite Vandeputte’s strength to hold second for almost the whole race, Iserbyt clearly had a second wind and came round his fellow Belgian in the final lap to slot into runner-up spot.
Iserbyt was charging, but the gap to Nieuwenhuis was an ask too much, and the Dutch rider duly sealed his first European victory of the season as Iserbyt took second. Vandeputte took third, a good result for the Belgian but equally a disappointing one after sitting in second for more than six laps.
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