Both continents witnessed dominating performances by two riders this past weekend, Tim Johnson and Zdenek Stybar. Johnson took the solo approach, attacking the lead group at both rounds of the Super Cross Cup on Long Island. He was clearly the best rider in the US this weekend, forcing me to rethink my “sure thing” at Nationals: Ryan Trebon. Stybar's domination involved a little more luck and a whole lotta speed. The Czech champion used his newfound sprinting skills to win a four-up sprint on Saturday at the GVA Trofee round in Hasselt. On Sunday, Stybar again won in a sprint, this time against Sven Nys after another very fast race. Cleary, these are the two best riders right now on their repsetive continents. Johnson looks poised to carry his form into Nationals in a few weeks, while Stybar has loftier goals: the late-January World Championships in the Czech Republic.
Tim Johnson's stellar rides didn't surprise many people this weekend. He needed two commanding performances to wrap up the NACT title and solidify his place atop most major rankings in the US. Behind Johnson, his teammates Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll held on so Cyclocrossworld.com could sweep the podium both days. Ryan Trebon came close to cracking the trio’s stranglehold on Saturday, but ended-up 4th after trying to cover every Cyclocrossworld.com move. On Sunday, Powers directly drew-out Trebon with an early attack, which would eventually allow Johnson to bridge and attack his way to victory. It is clear that the Cyclocrossworld.com guys came with a plan and executed it to perfection. I see only two issues for these guys when it comes to Nationals. First, Nationals are in Oregon, Trebon's backyard, so he'll have an advantage. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Powers and Driscoll are without elite National Championship jerseys. Cooperation can only last so long and if selfishness takes over, it could spell disaster for the trio.
While the bulk of the US riders are focusing on Nationals, a long season remains for the European racers. Their championships are still months away, so it is all about finding form and gaining any edge you can. Zdenek Stybar clearly found his winning legs this weekend. The Czech rider has been quietly bouncing around the podium all season, just waiting to break-out. In the process of taking his 2 wins this weekend he beat Nys in a two-up sprint, preventing the Belgian from taking his 50th career Superprestige victory. The previous day, Stybar shocked the world by beating Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout in an all-out dash to the line. Clearly he had the kick he needed this weekend. The bright spot for Nys was taking complete control of the Superprestige series by finishing a few spots ahead of Albert. Both races saw the usual moves from Albert and Nys, all of which failed in the end. We also saw attacks from riders no longer willing to settle for top-5 positions, most notably Klass Vantornout. Perhaps we're beginning to see some parity in European racing.
Clearly, there are two new #1’s in the Power Rankings this week. But where does everyone else fall? Let’s find-out:
North American Rankings
1. Tim Johnson (2) - After swapping podium positions with Trebon last weekend, Johnson reminded us that he's truly a force to be reckoned with. He picked-up the NACT overall in convincing fashion and in the process let everyone know that after ten-plus years as an elite, he's not done yet. I have regained hope that the New Englander can take another National Championship in December. Perhaps he can win the USGP as well.
2. Jeremy Powers (10) - Powers missed the Mercer Cup last weekend due to some sort of illness. That seemed to have little effect as he regained his position as one of the top crossers in the US. He tried his patent first lap attack on Sunday and may have won—if Tim Johnson hadn't been there. I feel like I've said that before…
3. Jamey Driscoll (3) - "Mr. Consistency" retained his title with a pair of podium finishes this weekend. I'm still convinced that this isn't his year, but with the results he's posted, he could be the next big thing. It’s hard to believe he's the worst rider on his team.
4. Ryan Trebon (1) - A 4th and a 6th mean Trebon missed his mark. He's been the only rider capable of outfoxing the Cyclocrossworld trio this year though, so there's still hope. He finally gets to go home and let the big boys come to him. He's got three big races left: the final two USGP Races in Portland and Nationals the following week in Bend. Talk about home field advantage!
5. Adam Craig (na) - The mountain biker, turned crosser, turned mountain biker is back. Craig used to be a usual face at cyclocross races, but had backed-off a bit over the years. After a late start to the season, Craig caught many by surprise, including myself. Right now, he's definitely one of the best in the US.
6. Chris Jones (6) - Chris Jones continues to ride well without much attention. A pair of top-10’s on Long Island prove that he belongs at the front. Now all he needs is a marquee win to wrap-up his season and set him up for next year.
7. Valentin Scherz (8) - "The Swiss Sensation" was able to hang with the leaders this weekend, but landed a bit short finishing 10th and 5th. He's on his way to a MAC title and continues to make a great impression in the US. He'll be a name to follow in the next few months when he heads back to Europe.
8. Barry Wicks (5) - Wicks was inexplicably absent this week. Perhaps he's taking some time off before the rest of US focuses its attention on Oregon in December. Or perhaps it's something bigger. He's still a top-10 rider though, and I expect him back this weekend.
9. Geoff Kabush (7) - The "Maple Leaf Man" missed-out this weekend due to illness. Perhaps he'll bounce back like Powers did and storm the podium this coming weekend. He still hasn't found his rhythm this season; hopefully it doesn't set him back further.
10. Dan Timmerman (9) - Timmerman had a rough weekend and didn't make the trip to Long Island. He should be back this weekend, working off the turkey and stuffing on his way to the NECCS title.
Dropped this week: Davide Frattini (4).
1. Zdenek Stybar (3) - Stybar earned the #1 spot this week in spectacular fashion. Two fast races and all-out sprint wins gave the Czech the credit he deserves. Stybar will now have a lot of pressure on his shoulders; it will be interesting to see how he follows it up.
2. Niels Albert (1) - Losing the #1 spot for the first time this season, Albert didn't struggle as much as people might think. He ended-up 3rd in a 4-up sprint after trying to split the lead group numerous times. His 4th on Sunday was a result of him cracking, something he never does. Everyone has a bad weekend.
3. Sven Nys (2) - Nys drops a spot after a weekend filled with problems. He looked poised to take his 50th career Superprestige win on Sunday, but failed in the closing meters. His GVA Trofee race was marred by a rolled tubular that still has him scratching his head. Hopefully his luck will turn and we can see the Nys of old.
4. Klaas Vantornout (10) - Vantornout has struggled the past couple weeks, but he's starting to turn the corner. I expected him to be a top-5 rider this season and this weekend he finally began riding where he should. Two top finishes prove he's on the right track.
5. Kevin Pauwels (4) - For a second (no pun intented) I thought Pauwels might have grabbed a breakout win on Saturday. Alas, he lost the sprint to his teammate and slipped to 9th on Sunday. Pauwels is still young though and still finds ways to surprise people every weekend.
6. Bart Aernouts (6) - Aernouts continues to ride steadily toward the back of the main field. It's amazing how competitive the top-10 has become in Europe; Aernouts is one of many often caught in the middle.
7. Francis Mourey (5) - Mourey stays on the list because I think he's one of the top-10 riders in Europe. When he races he does well (mostly 5th place) and if he raced more I think his results would improve.
8. Radomir Simunek (9) - Simunek slid inside the top-10 again this weekend. He's one of those riders who can dominate the smaller races, while continuing to ride well on the larger stage. I think things will come around over the next few weeks; he may finally land on the podium in December.
9. Gerben de Knegt (8) - At 35, de Knegt is in the twilight of his career. That said, he manages to do just enough each week to finish inside the top ten. He may not reach the podium in a big race this year, but he’s still the Netherlands’ best hope this season.
10. Enrico Franzoi (7) - Sadly, Franzoi gets this spot for only one reason: no one else rode well enough to knock him off. He rounds-out the top-10 this week with an 11th place on Sunday. Despite this, I still think he's one of the best in Europe right now.
As for the weekend ahead, the US continues its craziness with no less then five UCI races. Baystate Cyclocross expands to two-days in Massachusetts while Jingle Cross continues its success with three days of racing in Iowa. The New England riders should be out in full force at the Baystate races, while the Jingle Cross offers a load of UCI points and may draw riders trying to move-up the starting grid come Nationals. If Todd Wells can overcome his injury, he may be a name to watch in Iowa. The clear favorite in Massachusetts is Tim Johnson.
In Europe, Sven Nys will get another crack at his 50th career Superprestige win on Sunday as that series heads to the Netherlands. However, all eyes will be on the World Cup in Koksijde, Belgium on Saturday. Albert needs to respond after a tough weekend, while Stybar needs to show that he can continue to win. I’m once again putting my money on Nys for Sunday. As far as the World Cup goes, I'm going with Albert. Not a gutsy call I know, but those two guys need to regain control of the field and those two series.
Enjoy your weekend! Gobble. Gobble.