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Tribute to Kevin Pauwels (for his last race)
« on: February 24, 2019, 15:28 »
So I know that several posters on Velorooms don't like him but Kevin Pauwels has been my favourite rider since 2008 and since he's now raced his last race in Oostmalle, I couldn't leave him without a tribute of my own.

Why have I always liked Kevin Pauwels? It must have something to do with my own monstrous shyness in real life. You wouldn't believe it because I like writing especially about cycling but speaking scare the death out of me. So seeing Kevin Pauwels as a top athlete with so much anxiety while responding to interviews brought me a lot of confidence. If I were a top athlete, I would be equally scared to death at interviews.

Michel Wuyts in his book "Cyclocross" (Kannibaal 2011) said that Kevin tended towards a slight form of autism which psycho-social tests never really confirmed or at least the word never really came out. At school, Kevin was "quieter than quiet", said one of his former teacher to Wuyts. When he first interviewed him as a junior, after streaks of wins, Kevin would never dare to answer. His grandmother had to do win for him. Later, for example, in his glory season 2011/12, answering to interviews became a lot easier, at least he did a lot of effort, so realised Michel Wuyts (after his win in Ronse, that season, if I remember correctly).

Also became an admirer after his win in Overijse 2008 (his first major win with the pros), when he showed nice climber's legs, alone in the lead by the end of the first lap, he then capitalised on the rivalry between Lars Boom and Sven Nys to surprise them, "at the exact right moment" (said Paul Herijgers). I still remember the simplicity of his victory celebration, short time arms up, no-frills, unadorned. I would realise later that that was vintage Kevin Pauwels.

Kevin long had a reputation of being a wheelsucker, which I've always found unfair even though it's true that he often did but rarely won races that way. When he stayed in wheels, usually that was because he was not in the best of form. For example, on his beloved Zolder course in 2009, he was in the lead in lap 2, had the race in his own hands from then on and eventually got clear solo at half-race despite Niels Albert's chase. On that same route, Kevin was the 2002 junior World Champion ahead of Krzysztof Kuzniak of Poland and no other than Zdenek Stybar.

Likewise in Pontchâteau 2011, a route that was also familiar to him as he had been crowned U23 World Champion there in 2004 (ahead of Mariusz Gil and Martin Zlamalik), Kevin dominated the field with Niels Albert, both were in the lead for the most part of the race, Kevin leading more often than not and eventually outsprinted him,

Then, you had this sprint in Lille 2012. After a thrilling battle with Zdenek Stybar, Bart Wellens, Sven Nys and Niels Albert. Starting the sprint in third position, Kevin could pass Nys and nailed Stybar right on the line for the most beautiful sprint I've ever seen.

It's right after that season that Kevin was tranferred from Telenet-Fidea to Sunweb, for the rest of his career. Hans Van Kasteren paid him very low at Fidea, had a reputation for that and Kevin would rather rely on start bonuses and prize money to earn his bread. At Sunweb, he was much better paid and the season that followed 2011/12 was a year of demonstration. He won several of the harder crosses: Ronse (Kruisberg), Asper-Gavere, Igorre (Basque country), Koppenberg (no less!), won the final classifications of the World Cup and of the GvA Trophy (which is now the DVV Trophy). One miss was the World Cup event in Koksijde, not really suited to him because of the sand but which he should've won if it weren't for Sven Nys closing the door in the sprint and not being disqualified. That was one of the few times we could see Kevin very angry, even in interviews he had comments we were not used to hearing from him.   

The World Championship also escaped him. The closest he was was probably Louisville 2013 but a mechanical in the final lap kept him from top10 and there wasn't much to do against Nys anyway.

Kevin won for the second time the World Cup GC in 2015 but perhaps a bit blinded by the fact that Wout Van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel were then still mainly racing in the U23 ranks and already better than him. That same season, Kevin almost nailed his first Superprestige GC. He brilliantly won the final leg in Middelkerke as he had to but also had to hope that Mathieu Van der Poel finished third and Wout Van Aert was unable to outsprint Mathieu for 2nd, so Mathieu won his first Superprestige GC. I can still see Kevin, looking behind as he crossed the line, shaking his head and then still make his victory salute. I don't remember any rider being so disappointed ... to win a race.  :D

Kevin could still win a Superprestige event in Ruddervoorde in 2015/16 on a course that is unsuited to him but then in 2016/17 it got real hard to deal with this new generation led by Wout & Mathieu. Even behind this amazing duet, youngsters like Toon Aerts, Laurens Sweeck or Michael Vanthourenhout et al were really quick to push back the older generation. Not just Kevin but also Klaas Vantornout or Tom Meeusen could no longer compete. Lars Van der Haar could occasionally get nice wins but he's younger too.

However after a final decent season in which he won yet another victory in Hasselt and beat up-and-coming talent Thomas Pidcock in Zonnebeke, Kevin Pauwels announced on February 11 that he would retire by the end of the season.

Kevin Pauwels did not win much but won some of the most prestigious and hardest of them all, as already said, especially in 2011/12 but not just: notable wins would include: Overijse 2008, Ronse, Asper-Gavere, Igorre, Koppenberg, all in 2011, Namur 2012 & 2014, Zonhoven and Francorchamp 2014 after a nice battle with Lars Van der Haar.

On the road, Kevin did nice things too. 8th in the Belgian nats in Knokke-Heist in 2008 (with win for Jürgen Roelandts) and 9th the year after in Aywaille on a radically different route. He also won a nice stage at the Tour of Serbia on an uphill finish in 2010:

In mountainbike he was twice national champion, in 2015 & 2016.

His father Jos and uncle Dirk Pauwels were also decent cyclocross riders. His father is also a farmer and a good businessman if I remember a comment by Mario De Clercq. I also remember Michel Wuyts saying that Kevin was born between two barns!

This thread is also dedicated to the memory of Tim Pauwels, Kevin's older brother who passed away during the 2004 cross of Erpe-Mere from a rupture of the aorta. Since then Kevin reputedly refused to race with a heart-rate monitor, though still trained with it. What I remember of Tim is that he was just as quiet as his brother, who didn't speak too much but wouldn't hurt a fly and did no harm to anyone. Tim and Kevin always trained together and this unexpected death was a huge shock to him. It was hard to get Kevin back on his bike afterwards.

Wishing Kevin a nice and fruitful "second life".  :)

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    Servais Knavendish

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    Re: Tribute to Kevin Pauwels (for his last race)
    « Reply #1 on: February 24, 2019, 17:10 »
    Thanks a lot for that Echoes - a really enjoyable read and great way to mark his last race - cheers!
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  • Slow Rider

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    Re: Tribute to Kevin Pauwels (for his last race)
    « Reply #2 on: February 26, 2019, 20:01 »
    I am one of those who never really liked Kevin Pauwels. Not that I hated him or anything, just always found him a bit dull, both on and off the bike.

    But to be fair to him, Kevin has had a great career. In between giants such as Nys, Stybar and Albert, he managed to build an impressive palmares. When Albert was forced to quit and even Nys' bizarrely long career was coming to a close, I thought Albert and Van der Haar would spend the next few years battling for top honours. I had not expected Van der Poel and Van Aert to be that good that soon. And while the era of those two giants began, Pauwels seemed to be fading more quickly than expected.

    Pauwels has managed a more than decent number of wins, including two world cups. Looking through his results it's actually quite surprising he has never won a Belgian- or World championship jersey. Must be one of the bigger riders never to have worn either of those.

    Although I haven't seen his last race, it's good to read he went out with a win - that's no more than he deserves.
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  • Echoes

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    Re: Tribute to Kevin Pauwels (for his last race)
    « Reply #3 on: February 26, 2019, 23:08 »
    It's amazing that he could win in his final race. I certainly did not expect that and that's why I predicted that his last win would be Zonnebeke against Pidcock. I found it symbolic for him to beat the next great talent after Mathieu and Wout, albeit a Pidcock not in full bloom yet.

    Here in Oostmalle, he could beat some of the best riders in Wout's & Mathieu's absence. Just have a look at the top10:

    1.   Kevin Pauwels
    2.   Toon Aerts
    3.   Tom Meeusen
    4.   Lars van der Haar (Ned)
    5.   Laurens Sweeck
    6.   Tim Merlier
    7.   Michael Boros (Cze)
    8.   Jim Aernouts
    9.   Jens Adams
    10.   Nicolas Cleppe

    I watched a bit of the coverage (not live but afterwards). Toon Aerts claimed both before and after the race he didn't/wouldn't give Kevin any presents. Kevin had to fight to get the win. I particularly appreciate Tom Meeusen's post-race interview. I didn't suspect he was such a good friend. Tom was asked about his own final part of the season in which he showed great form but he would just say he's most of all very glad for Kevin to end his career that way. When asked whether he would've let him win if they had finished with the two of them, Tom just replied "He was good enough to finish it off himself". Then he mainly remember him as a good teammate (they long raced together at Fidea) and a nice guy ("een toffe gast") whom he will surely keep in touch with later (if I understood correctly).

    Many think that Kevin stopped too early though: Adrie Van der Poel was the first to say it but he understands that there are many factors that can motivate a decision, Geert Wellens also said it and Tom. At age 34 (almost 35), it's for sure a bit early for a cyclocross rider, certainly when you see that he could win races again (which he didn't in the past two years) but only the rider himself can take the decision. I'll sure miss him a lot.

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  • Echoes

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    Niels Albert Has Nice Words About Kevin Pauwels After Retirement

    Niels Albert is addressing Kevin Pauwels : « Not a prolific winner but you may be proud »

    Albert crossed against Pauwels for many years and was thereby a major opponent. He wrote a column in Het Laatste Nieuws :

    « Hello Kevin,

    It will be all right in your further life, mate. You may be proud of the career you’ve made, even though you weren’t much of a prolific winner and this well-deserved World or Belgian title which you were predicted with absolute certainty when you turned pro and which could have made your palmares complete. »

    « Without a doubt you had the potential for it. Power (« op overschot », I don’t know how to translate). Enough technical skills. Unfortunately you did not have the easier opponents : Nys, Stybar, myself. Eventually also Van Aert  and Van der Poel. And if I may say, you also missed that little bit of killer instinct, in my opinion. The composure to definitively drop your opponent. »

    « Always friendly and considerate, in your typical way. Nice ! Even a bit too nice ! I still consider it a quality than a flaw. I most of all give you credit for it. Personally I never had any feud with you, Kevin. I just didn’t manage it. Even though you weren’t the easier opponent to race against. Not the man who broke the race open, not too many initiative taken. »

    « As opponent you knew it. So just : deal with it. You, rightly so, relied much more often on your main weapons : a powerful final acceleration.  Or else your razor-sharp sprint, with which you beat me half January 2011 in the Pontchâteau World Cup event after a heart-stopping battle. Forever it remains my best memory of you. How frighteningly hard did you race in that period, man ! »


    My memory of Pontchâteau is that Kevin took more turns in the lead than Niels. Occasionally Niels seemed frustrated when Kevin refused to take turns but whether that means he went on a feud with him there's a step you wouldn't make.

    I also like the headline of this article by Guy Van Den Langenbergh of Gazet van Antwerpen:

    “Wie weinig zegt, kan ook niet veel verkeerd zeggen” (He who don't say much can neither say much wrong)

    That's how you usually become shy.  :)
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