Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Midweek 'Cross Report

Here's the latest of Erik's Midweek Cross Report. You can read last week's column here.

After several weeks of racing, this past weekend was supposed to be the first where we would get some answers as to who really will be battling for wins this season. However, it ended up leaving us with more questions than answers, and me scratching my head. With the European season in full swing, things will become clearer this weekend as the Superprestige and GVA Trophy series begin. Stateside, things will again splinter as riders crisscross the country in pursuit of UCI points.

Treviso, Italy hosted the first round of the World Cup on Sunday. Niels Albert dominated the race and continued to show that he's capable of riding away from everyone early and riding his own pace to victory. Sven Nys had his self-proclaimed worst ride in five years. Nys abruptly promised a stellar ride during the first round of the Superprestige race this weekend, where he will begin his campaign for a 10th overall title. Obviously my prediction last week (that he would take the win) was wrong, but more importantly, is Nys' domination over? Only time will tell.
Zdenk Stybar and Klass Vantornout rounded-out the top three spots with very solid rides. Stybar's result was not surprising and it appears that Vantornout picked-it-up a notch and is capable of holding pace with the leaders. Sven Vanthourenhout and Erwin Vervecken failed to make the podium, finishing 16th and 17th respectively. Kevin Pauwels didn't come close to the lead group, but did hang-on for a respectable 15th. Christian Heule continued his strong start to the season by finishing 10th--perhaps his time in the US will continue to pay off.

Much like Albert, Katie Compton decimated the competition in the women's race. She is clearly rid of the traveling issues that plagued her last year. The absence of Hanka Kupfernagel (and lack of information of her whereabouts) marks the only footnote on Compton's win. Hopefully Kupfernagel will re-appear soon and we can see what kind of shape the World Champion is in.
Across the pond, the top US crossers gathered in Gloucester, Massachusetts for two rounds of the NACT and NECCS. Jonathan Page dominated Day 1 and looked poised for the win on Day 2 before losing ground to Tim Johnson after “the crash”. Chris Jones rode well, as did Andy Jacques-Maynes and Jesse Anthony, with all of them placing in the top-10 both days. The rest of the usual suspects made it a great race, however the Kona boys were noticeably absent, as they stayed home and raced locally. It will be a few weeks before everyone gets back together, which means the rankings will continue to jump around a bit.

Obviously it was a very exciting weekend of racing and a lot of questions were answered. Several of my predictions were way off though, so it was a bit of a rough weekend for me. The two big stories are Page and Nys, both of whom will have to make a statement this weekend. Clearly all the pressure is on Nys, but Page needs to ride well as he transitions to European races. And hopefully the weekend will be much kinder to me and my predictions as well. Here are this week's rankings:

North American:
1. Jamey Driscoll (2) – Driscoll seems to be living-up to the reputation he created for himself last year at Nationals. His second and fourth place finishes prove that he is one of the most consistent riders of the year, no matter how big the stage.
2. Tim Johnson (na) – If you felt the earth shake this weekend it was the return of Johnson in front of a “hometown” crowd. After taking some time off due to a separated shoulder at Star Crossed, Johnson pulled off a fourth place on Saturday and a victory on Sunday. Needless to say, he's back.
3. Chris Jones (5) – Jones picked up a third in the slop on Day 1 and a sixth under dryer conditions on Day 2. Clearly he doesn't plan on fading anytime soon and remains an early season surprise.
4. Andy Jacques-Maynes (na) – After what appears to be a misstep last weekend, Andy is back with two fifth places (talk about consistent). Next weekend will be a real test.
5. Joachim Parbo (na) – The Danish National Champ continues to spend the bulk of his season stateside. He had a rocky first few weeks, but is clearly coming-in to form. He's committed to another full season of US racing and should stay in the rankings for the next few months.
6. Jeremy Powers (1) – After a strong 3rd-place on Saturday, Powers missed the podium on Sunday. He probably burned a few bullets trying to crack Page (as part of the trio) and will have his chance at redemption as the team will be split-up this weekend.
7. Jesse Anthony (10) – Anthony has finally justified me keeping him in the rankings with two top-10 finishes in Gloucester. As with several other riders on this list, hopefully his results will become more consistent and we'll see the Anthony of old.
8. Dan Timmerman (4) - After a mid-pack finish on Saturday, the breakout NECCS leader finished a respectable seventh on Sunday. Timmerman appears to be here to stay; he'll have another crack at the big boys in a few weeks.
9. Luke Keough (9) – The revelation of the early season, this youngster still has a lot to learn. His remarkable 8th-place effort on Day 1 was hindered by his mid-pack performance on Day 2. In order to compete with the best, Keough has to learn how to recover and put in back-to-back hard races.
10. Davide Frattini (na) – After two dominating wins during the first weekend of cross in the US, Frattini failed to produce a result. His back-to-back 12th-places show that he's still around, but for how long?
Dropped from the ranks: Ryan Trebon (3), Geoff Kabush (6) and Barry Wicks (7).

1. Niels Albert (1) – No surprise here. Albert won by nearly a minute and made it look effortless. At this rate he's going to ride by himself the rest of this year—and won't mind it one bit.
2. Jonathan Page (4) – If you think Albert's performance was impressive, try this one on for size: Page won on Saturday by nearly two minutes! That's just silly. He finally heads to Europe this week and appears to be on pace for a top-5 performance.
3. Zdenk Stybar (9) – Clearly I dropped Stybar too far down the list last week due to his desire to race at home against a less powerful field. Stybar's the only man who seems capable of toppling Albert, but I'm not holding my breath—enjoy 2nd-place!
4. Klass Vantornout (8) – Klass took a big step forward last weekend, landing him on the podium in third. I still have reservations about his ability to win, but he's moving in the right direction.
5. Katie Compton (10) – Is Katie Compton the Niels Albert of women’s racing, or is Niels Albert the Katie Compton of men’s racing? Better yet, is Katie Compton the next Sven Nys? It's a long season, and a lot of pressure, but she seems more than capable of crushing the competition at will.
6. Francis Mourey (na) – Mourey's a strong road rider who found his way into the top-10 at most of the World Cups last year. He rides a condensed, but tough cyclocross schedule. 5th at a World Cup is always a good start to the season.
7. Martin Bina (na) – Bina rode very well last year at the smaller European cross races, but his World Cup results were mediocre at best. Only time will tell if his 4th-place finish was a fluke.
8. Christian Heule (7) – Heule had strong start to the season in the US and it seems to be carrying over to Europe. I'm very curious to see his results this weekend since he won't have to travel half way around the world to race.
9. Kevin Pauwels (9) – There are two important things to note as we get to the bottom of the rankings. First, the top 20 riders were separated by less then two-minutes this weekend. Second, several spots were taken-up by roadies whom we'll never hear from again, most notably Steve Chainel and Enrico Franzoi. Still, I expected a better result from Pauwels.
10. Sven Vanthourenhout (2) – Sven tumbled down the rankings this week due to a lackluster Treviso result. The only good thing: he finished just ahead of Vervecken, which kept him in and Vervecken out.
Dropped from the ranks: Sven Nys (6) and Erwin Vervecken (3).

After a relatively simple weekend this past week (only three UCI races), we head back to the madness. There are 12 UCI races this week, including the first rounds of the GVA Trophy and Superprestige series. Stateside there's the three-day Cincinnati UCI Cyclocross Festival and two days of racing in Providence, RI. Canada will crown new National Champions and host a UCI C2 race. Britain, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will also play host to UCI C2 races. As you can tell, this weekend promises to be a doozy.

That's it for today--share your comments below! And be sure to visit Erik at his blog for more in-depth reporting on all things cross.

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