Here’s the latest installment of the Wednesday Cross Report, courtesy of Erik Mitchell. We hope you enjoy Erik’s insights. Feel free to visit him at his own site, and as always, we welcome your comments below.
In a weekend where we saw no less than 12 UCI races, including the start of the GVA Trophy and Superprestige series, the major story is Sven Nys' return to the top. However, while the European scene returned to normal, the North American scene was blown apart. Split between a three-day affair in Ohio and back-to-back races in Rhode Island, two names have emerged as the definitive heads of state: Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson. Katie Compton also returned stateside just in time to decimate a powerful women’s field in Ohio. Jonathan Page finally headed over to Europe where he produced less than lack luster results. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago any European result by an American would be earth shattering. How the times have changed.
Sven Nys' return to prominence seems like a long time coming. However, the rollercoaster ride may not be over. Remember the optimism over his 3rd-place finish at Houtlandcross, followed by a disastrous World Cup race? While he's the first to crack Niels Albert, even Nys needs to prove it was more than a one-time deal. Also, Albert still leads the UCI rankings, World Cup rankings and GVA Trophy, all of which Nys won last year. While Nys has expressed his desire for a 10th Superprestige title, he's not one to settle for less than the top spot in any of these other series—unless, perhaps, he can pick-up a World Championship.
The story behind the Nys/Albert battle was the solid performance of Zdenk Stybar. As I've said before Stybar's biggest asset could be the fact that nobody pays attention to him. The usual names were also all floating around this weekend, but at this point in the season consistency is key. The two exceptions are Martin Bina and Sven Vanthourenhout. While both produced impressive results, they could only produce on one day, thus dropping them to the bottom of the rankings. Page's top-20 results were a good sign considering he flew back to Europe on Friday, but after a lot of hype last week on my part, he has dropped-off the list. The biggest addition is Dieter Vanthourenhout who returned to action only a few weeks after a horrific crash that left many wondering if he would ever recover.
Domestically, after the previous weekend’s double-header in New England, the North American scene was spread across the continent. There was a triple-header in Ohio, a double-dip in Providence and a two-day Canadian affair. As previously mentioned, Powers and Johnson took top honors in the US, while Geoff Kabush grabbed a National Championship and UCI win up north. Behind them, there was a mad dash for points, cash and pride. Barry Wicks went to Ohio and landed on the podium every day, while Jamey Driscoll was right behind his teammate in Providence.
As I said before, one of the biggest criteria for the power rankings—especially in the US—is consistency. In Europe there are fewer races, so the best of the best are always on hand. As we saw this weekend though, the North American scene has become very spread-out when it comes to UCI races. While I won’t get into the “too many UCI races” debate right now, it makes it challenging to pick the best of the best. Obviously, priority is given to the riders who were more consistent over three days versus two. However, especially this weekend, if you had a DNF, you didn't make the cut (i.e. Ryan Trebon and Jerome Townsend). Some guys got knocked off the list due to bad luck, while others didn't race and will likely return next week.
All I can say is that it was an exciting and action-packed weekend on both sides of the Atlantic. The European season is truly in full swing and the usual cast of characters is back on top. North American races continue to give opportunities to many unknowns, all of whom are taking full advantage. In both places, the usual big names are back on the podium, but there are plenty of riders quietly racking up UCI points and putting in solid performances. So, without further delay, here’s this week’s ranking:
1. Niels Albert (1) – Finally, something to talk about! Albert decided to “let” somebody else win. However, he still dominates virtually every series that matters, so he remains Number One. Could this be the last week?
2. Zdenk Stybar (3) – Stybar's consistency moves him up one spot. He has yet to win a major cross race this year, but unlike virtually everyone else on this list, he's consistently at the front. Stybar is still young and may find himself on the top step of the podium sooner than anyone thinks.
3. Sven Nys (na) – Welcome back? Nys still remains a huge question mark; after all he was dropped from the rankings last week. He doesn't need to win; he just needs to find the consistency that has made him the legend he is. Winning always helps though.
4. Klaas Vantornout (4) – While I'm impressed with his consistency, I'm still waiting for Vantornout to “wow” me. Two top-5’s are nothing to hang your head about, especially in this company. But I still feel like something's missing.
5. Katie Compton (5) – I was very tempted to move Compton up a spot this week, but the return of Nys negated that option. However, Compton's utter dominance continued stateside with three-straight victories despite having only one bike in the US, not pre-riding the course on Friday, and crashing twice. Her margins of victory: 3:41, 2:39 and 1:49. Ridiculous.
6. Bart Aernouts (na) – Aernouts is another rider known for a ton of top-10’s, but very few podiums—especially in World Cup races. He did pick up a win this year, but now he needs to prove that he can win when all the big boys are around.
7. Kevin Pauwels (9) – Pauwels bounced-back from a lackluster World Cup result with two top-10 finishes. I still expect a major result from him, but it takes a lot of skill/fitness and a bit of luck to stay with the lead group, especially on the very challenging courses the Europeans are facing this year.
8. Dieter Vanthourenhout (na) – Generally an 8th and 9th-place finish don’t get you into the rankings, but the fact that Dieter's career almost ended a few weeks ago shows what this kid is made of. That said, I expect better results over the next few weeks.
9. Sven Vanthourenhout (10) – Sven moves-up one spot due to a very solid 4th-place finish at the first round of the Superprestige. His DNF at the GVA Trophy makes me wonder if he deserves this spot, but I think he's on par for a big result this weekend at the World Cup race in Plzen.
10. Martin Bina (7) – Bina won a round of the TOI TOI Cup, but elected not to participate in the two bigger European races. Stybar did this a few weeks ago and it worked well for him. Both Bina and Stybar will be under a lot of pressure as the World Cup heads to Plzen this weekend.
Dropped-out This Week: Jonathan Page (2), Francis Mourey (7) and Christian Heule (8).
North American Rankings:
1. Jeremy Powers (6) – Three is always better then two, and Powers managed to put up three consecutive wins to his teammate’s (Tim Johnson) two. Last year, Powers surprised a lot of people with his results. This year, he's eliminated any doubters and looks like a very strong candidate for a National Championship.
2. Tim Johnson (2) – Johnson's return from a separated has been nothing short of remarkable. The bad news: he'll have to leave New England this weekend. The good news: he'll have an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Powers to try and prove that he's the best.
3. Barry Wicks (na) – Wicks' teammate, Ryan Trebon, didn't make the rankings this week, but left his mark. Trebon's second on Sunday prevented Wicks from picking up three-straight 3rd’s. Wicks has proven he can win in the Mid-Atlantic, and will have the perfect opportunity this weekend.
4. Jamey Driscoll (1) – How much does this suck? Driscoll's two second-places in Providence make him the worst rider on his team. He'll go head-to-head-to-head with Johnson and Powers in Toronto this weekend with bragging rights on the line.
5. Joachim Parbo (5) – I'm still working on a good nickname for Parbo, and with three straight podium finishes in Ohio, I better come up with one quickly. The Danish Destroyer looks destined for a UCI win on North American soil this year.
6. Chris Jones (3) – Jones played his part in Providence to make sure the podium looked the same both days, with two third-place finishes. So much for a roadie with some fitness, Jones looks like he's here to stay.
7. Mark LaLonde (na) – LaLonde continues to ride with the leaders and it's time that I take notice. While some media outlets have called him the revelation of the season so far, I think LaLonde still has some work to do to prove he truly belongs (three top-10’s do help though).
8. Geoff Kabush (na) – The pressure is squarely on Kabush's shoulders this weekend. The newly crowned Canadian National Champion has two rounds of the NACT in his backyard. Can the Canadian hold off the American invasion?
9. Dan Timmerman (8) – Timmerman continues to ride solidly in New England. A pair of top-10’s helped him extend his lead in the NECCS and he will finally travel south (to the Mid-Atlantic) to continue his stellar season.
10. Troy Wells (na) – Wells has always seemed destined for great things. Much like Jesse Anthony, there may have been too much pressure on Wells to produce at the elite level. A breakthrough year seems eminent; perhaps this is the start.
Dropped-out This Week: Andy Jacques-Maynes (4), Jesse Anthony (7), Luke Keough (9) and Davide Frattini (10).
As I mentioned earlier, the upper echelon of the US scene heads to Toronto this weekend for two rounds of the NACT. The Mid-Atlantic features the King and Queen of the MAC series, where the rest of the US field will battle it out. There's a midweek cross race in Belgium that may see some sparks fly, but the big action will be at Round Two of the World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic. Round Two is only for the men, so the European women will either take a weekend off or head to Switzerland for a race there. Both Toronto and the Mid-Atlantic feature a pair of races for the women, but I have been unable to confirm where Katie Compton is racing. The odds are she'll be in Toronto, but she's visited the Mid-Atlantic before. Regardless, the two main story lines will be the Powers/Johnson/Driscoll trio in Canada and Nys' second-chance to the World Cup--should be exciting!
What about you? Share your comments below!