Here's the latest column and power rankings from Pavé's own cross-correspondent, Erik Mitchell. Be sure to check-out Erik's new site, The Run-Up, for all things 'cross! And please, share your comments and feedback below.
The season's biggest trends continued on both sides of the Atlantic this past weekend. In the United States, Cyclocrossworld.com still dominates the big races, but the little guys are getting some exposure at the smaller UCI races. On the other side of the Atlantic, there are two riders, Sven Nys and Niels Albert, who seem capable of winning every race they enter. So what does this mean? Well, if you show up to a race in the US and a member of the Cyclocrossworld.com team is there, you will likely lose. Similarly, if you race in Europe and your last name isn't Stybar, you have little to no chance of winning as well.
Sounds depressing, doesn't it? Maybe, but on the other hand, it could make things very interesting. At the smaller US and European races, we are starting to see some real up-and-coming talent. At the bigger races, where it's literally a Who's Who of cross, there's always a great battle to be seen at the front of the races. In my opinion, this could be one of the best cross seasons ever.
The US season is winding down with each passing week; now it's just a matter of finishing-up the National and regional series, crowning a National Champion, and sending racers to Europe. This weekend, the big guns were at Rounds Seven and Eight of the NACT in Colorado. Cyclocrossworld.com took the top 3 spots both days in drastically different conditions. Jamey Driscoll picked up 3rd both days, just behind his teammate Jeremy Powers. The real story was Tim Johnson's domination in the mud and slop on Saturday and then his super-fast win on Sunday in warmer, dryer conditions. Johnson is clearly the man to beat right now and his odds of success in Europe later this year keep improving. In my opinion, there are only two guys who can beat him right now: Ryan Trebon and Jonathan Page. While it's a bit too early to choose favorites for Nationals, I'm going to start with these three for now.
Turing to this week’s Domestic Power Ranking, behind Cyclocrossworld.com it was a crapshoot as Dan Timmerman, Barry Wicks, and Trebon were all noticeably absent from the races in CO. Clearly the guys who raced in Colorado get priority and consistency is still key. Top-finishers Adam Craig and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski were left-off the rankings because they're one timers who we won't see at the national level again. Adam Myerson at least deserves a mention--his two top-5’s in New Jersey were great to see, but not enough to get in the rankings. Speaking of New Jersey, the MAC series rolled along and much like Colorado saw drastically different courses and conditions on both days. Saturday's race was sandy and fast, while Sunday's mud-fest saw a significant shaking-up of the top-10. Nicholas Weighall took the win on Day 1 while Valentin Scherz dominated in the slop to pick-up the win on Day 2. For both men, the wins were their first UCI Elite victories.
In Europe, where the season is in full swing, there are fantastic battles every weekend that have left virtually every important series/title in a dead heat between Nys and Albert. It was all about the Superprestige on Sunday. Sven Nys' domination of the series has seen some missteps over the past few years and on this occasion Niels Albert got the better of him. It appears Nys' 10th title will be tough to earn. Aside from Albert’s win, the big story was the struggles of the other favorites. Due to horrible course conditions, there were bad starts, crashes, and miscommunications with pit crews. In the end, it was Albert who took home the victory with the ever-present Zdenk Stybar in second. Nys rolled home third. In the rankings, these guys fill the first three spots.
It should be very interesting to see how Albert and Nys handle themselves over the next few weeks. We are seeing some serious chinks in their armor and it's only a matter of time before someone is able to capitalize. The other trend we are seeing in European Ranking is the consistency of the top ten riders. Only two riders dropped out this week: Francis Mourey and Katie Compton. Mourey disappeared again this past weekend, but should return this weekend at the World Cup round in France. Compton's US results were impressive, but don't warrant a spot on this list.
In general, there's more consistency in the European Ranking, since it's the same guys going head-to-head every weekend. In the US, things are still all over the place due to injuries and multiple races each weekend. Things are going to be condensed over the next few weekends though, so a true North American Power Ranking should solidify itself just in time for Nationals. For now, here's this week’s rankings:
North American Rankings:
1. Tim Johnson (1) - Johnson proved that he's the best in the country right now with two wins. Saturday's came in the mud, while Sunday's was dry and warm. Clearly course conditions aren't hindering the veteran and at this point in the season he looks unstoppable.
2. Jeremy Powers (5) - Powers picked up a pair of second places in Colorado and appears to have bounced back from the illness he had last weekend. He look poised to win on Sunday but was spoiled by Johnson's superb effort.
3. Jamey Driscoll (2) - Driscoll's consistent riding has put him in the lead of the USGP, and while the NACT seems out of reach (thanks to Johnson), he still is the UCI point leader among Americans. It's amazing how consistent he's racing and how many points he has, even though he isn't winning.
4. Jesse Anthony (8) - Anthony's jump may surprise many, but his 6th-place in the slop should have been followed by a top-5 on Sunday. An untimely and nasty crash knocked him back to 16th. But Anthony may be back. Maybe.
5. Geoff Kabush (6) - Kabush appeared to be on track for a good finish on Saturday before dropping-out. The Canadian champ followed it up with a good ride on Sunday. Kabush has put in a hard and long MTB season, but his cross legs seem to be there. How long he can hang-on remains to be seen.
6. Nicholas Weighall (na) - After a victory on Saturday in the sand of Southern New Jersey, Weighall put in a solid effort in the mud on Sunday and ended-up 4th. Weighall has a long career ahead of him and is still finding his place in the elite ranks. So, while this may be his only appearance in the ranking this year, I expect to hear from him again.
7. Valentin Scherz (na) - The Swiss Sensation picked up a well-deserved win in the slop on Sunday. He also had a great performance at Granouge making me think he's a good rider in the mud. He's finished in the top-10 all year in the States; perhaps this win is the start of a breakout year for the young Swiss rider.
8. Dan Summerhill (na) - Summerhill has been mixing it up both in Europe and at home this year. Another trip to Europe seems imminent for the youngster, perhaps a Worlds podium is in the cards as well. It's hard to say if he'll stay in the ranks longer than a few weeks, but it wouldn't surprise me.
9. Ryan Trebon (3) - Hopefully Trebon can bounce back this weekend. It sounds like his crash in Kentucky was worse than most people realized. Even if he is concussed, he should be back in time for the USGP Mercer Cup rounds in a few weeks.
10. Dan Timmerman (4) - Timmerman took some well-deserved time off this weekend, before tackling the last half of the US cross season. He even had time for a short interview with me. Like Trebon, I expect Timmerman to be back this coming weekend ready to tear things up.
Dropped-out this week: Chris Jones (7), Barry Wicks (9) and Davide Frattini (10).
1. Niels Albert (2) - Albert quietly continues to have poor starts, but nobody seems to be either willing or able to press the pace and put him in the red. It didn't help that everyone else was slipping and sliding this weekend. Regardless, Albert is one of the top riders in the world right now and certainly earned the #1 spot--this week.
2. Zdenk Stybar (5) - Stybar finally got the attention he deserved as he lost the lead on Sunday, but kept the pressure on Albert. One wrong move or superb day, and Stybar could easily grab the win. Is he better then Nys? He was this weekend and that's all that matters. It should also be noted that the World Championships are in the Czech Republic in January. Hmmm…
3. Sven Nys (1) - Last week Nys seemed to be back to his old self. It's hard to believe that one bad pit cost him the race, but it definitely could have been a difference-maker. I don't think he's a sure thing anymore, but he's still one of the top three riders in the world right now.
4. Kevin Pauwels (4) - Pauwels was my pick this year to surprise. He finished 4th this weekend behind Nys, but was still over a minute behind the leaders. I'm still not sure that he'll reach the top step this year, but he's definitely a podium regular.
5. Klaas Vantornout (3) - Much like Pauwels, Vantornout is a podium regular who isn't quite capable of reaching the top step. The only advantage Vantornout has is that he's not Albert or Nys, which means he won't be as heavily marked at the World Championships (I guess the same can be said for Pauwels).
6. Gerben de Knegt (7) - At age 35 de Knegt is clearly in the twilight of his career. He continues to place in the top-10, even at the bigger races, but is rarely in contention for the win. The scary part: he's the best chance the Netherlands has for a medal at Worlds.
7. Erwin Vervecken (9) - It wouldn't be fair to de Knegt if I didn't mention Vervecken's age as well (38). The main difference between the two? Vervecken still has the panache to pull a surprise victory—which he will do at some point this season.
8. Bart Aernouts (8) - Aernouts continues to have solid showings at smaller races. He's still a step behind the leaders though and he rarely finishes inside the top-10 at the World Cups. But he's not the lowest ranked Belgian on this list.
9. Radomir Simunek (na) - Simunek hasn't raced much this year. He seems to pick and choose his races, in which he usually finishes inside the top-10. He's Czech, so I expect him to pick things up in the latter half of the season in preparation for the World Championships.
10. Dieter Vanthourenhout (na) - Dieter's back on the list after a solid 10th-place this weekend. He seems to have recovered from that nasty crash earlier this season; now he just has to find some form.
Dropped-out this week: Francis Mourey (6) and Katie Compton (10).
For the first time in a while, things are pretty straightforward this weekend. All eyes will be on Round 3 of the World Cup in Nommay, France. Francis Mourey will be there, representing his country on home soil. Niels Albert has to be the heavy favorite, but out of all the podium finishers last year, Sven Nys is the only rider scheduled to start.
In the US, the 19th Annual (yes, 19th!) Cycle-Smart International will take place over two days in Massachusetts. Dan Timmerman will bring his Series Leader jersey into Northampton against a star-studded field. No word yet if the Kona or Cyclocrossworld.com’s boys are going to show up, but it's in Cyclocrossworld.com’s backyard. All in all, it promises to be an action-packed weekend on both continents.
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