Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekly Cyclocross Report - Power Rankings and Preview

Better late than never, right? Erik's been in California for the week, learning the tricks of the trade at Specialized's Corporate Headquarters. Luckily, we were able to tear him away long enough to get the latest installment of his Power Rankings--albeit a bit late. We hope you enjoy; and please, share your comments below!

Now that we're past the midway point of the season in the United States, we're starting to see several riders who are clearly better than the rest. The only issue that remains is completing the top-10 beyond the top-5. I hoped last weekend would give me a clearer view since there was only one UCI race in the US. However, most of the top guys decided to take the weekend off to rest before embarking on the final month of races leading up to Nationals. In Europe, the top-10 remained primarily the same as we're seeing more consistent riding from the top names in the sport. On both continents the top-5 appears to be set for a while, as the lead groups don't seem to be changing. We are seeing some interesting changes within the lead groups though. This weekend, Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll picked-up solid wins, while Niels Albert returned to the top step of the podium slightly ahead of Zdenek Stybar, who continues to ride extremely well. Behind, there's still a struggle to stay in the top-10, as consistent results are hard to find.

In Europe, the cream of the crop traveled to France to contest another round of the World Cup. Once again, Niels Albert took the win, but this time he had company in the form of Zdenek Stybar. Sven Nys—whose latest excuse is an increase in training—came home in 3rd. It was no surprise to see Francis Mourey in 5th place (he's finished in that same spot at all the World Cups this year). Christian Heule returned to the top-10 and Martin Zlamalik continued his recent string of success. Obviously, the big story was Stybar, who actually attacked Albert and nearly pulled-off the upset. It is becoming increasingly clear that Sven Nys isn't riding like he used to, more importantly, Albert isn't as dominant as he was in the early part of the season. Thus, it's becoming crowded at the front of races in Europe right now, which means races are less predictable and the playing field is becoming more even. It's shaping-up to be a very exciting season.

It’s been a few weeks since there was only one UCI race in the US, but the expected showdown of the big boys will have to wait a week. Most of the top US guys are maxed-out on UCI points, so for them it's all about the National series and championships. Thus, both Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon took the weekend off. Johnson caught-up on some well-deserved rest, while Trebon stayed home, trying to recover from his accident in Kentucky. Even Jeremy Powers only raced on Saturday (he won). Both races in Massachusetts this past weekend were marred by bad crashes at the start, and several poorly timed mechanicals. Adam Craig continued his recent string of success, making me regret keeping him off last week’s rankings. As far as the rest of the rankings go, you'll notice that it once again has evolved. The list was designed to identify the top-10 cross racers in the country. So, you'll notice riders who didn't race remaining on the list.

Without further ado, here's this weeks rankings:

North American Rankings:
1. Jamey Driscoll (3) - Driscoll's consistency finally paid-off with a well-deserved victory on Sunday. It could be argued that if Powers or Johnson were there he probably wouldn't have won, but Driscoll definitely earned it. The win is a good confidence-booster before this weekend’s USGP race in New Jersey, where he'll defend his series lead.
2. Jeremy Powers (2) - Powers was clearly the best rider on Saturday, and probably would have won on Sunday if entered. Like his teammate Driscoll, Powers can use his win as a boost for next weekend’s mid-Atlantic showdown.
3. Dan Timmerman (10) - Without a rolled tire on Sunday, Timmerman would most likely have landed on the podium on consecutive days. He ended up 7th after fighting his way back into the top-10. It was another solid performance from the New Yorker as he continues to stretch his NECCS lead.
4. Nicholas Weighall (6) - Weighall followed his superb performance last weekend with a pair of top-5’s in New England. He's clearly on a roll right now, but we'll see how he does when the big guns roll into New Jersey this weekend.
5. Derrick St. John (na) - St. John has been in the rankings before. He seems to stick to races in Canada, so perhaps he's branching out. Regardless, when he shows up he races well and always has a good result.
6. Adam Craig (na) - I left Craig off of last week’s rankings because I thought the Colorado races were a one-time deal. If Craig stays East for a few weekends, he'll stay on the list, if this was a one shot deal, he'll drop back off. He's capable of good cross results, so it's nice to see him racing.
7. Tim Johnson (1) – Johnson took a well-deserved rest weekend a head of two more rounds of the USGP. He'll follow that up with two rounds of the NACT, where he'll defend his jersey.
8. Ryan Trebon (9) – The effects of Trebon's crash remain to be seen. He's definitely gunning for the USGP overall, so this weekend’s races are very important. The question remains: can he beat Johnson?
9. Valentin Scherz (7) – Scherz won two non-UCI races this weekend, including another MAC race. This weekend, he should be an interesting wild card and may wind-up in the lead group.
10. Jesse Anthony (4) – The roller coaster ride that plagued Anthony's early season seems to have returned. He appears to still have some form, but we'll find out the truth this weekend.

Dropped this week: Geoff Kabush (5) and Dan Summerhill (8).

European Rankings:
1. Niels Albert (1) – The only criticism of Albert lately is that he's not as dominant as he once was. There are still only two riders capable of beating him and I think that it will happen sooner or later.
2. Zdenek Stybar (2) – Last week I posed the question of whether or not Stybar was really better thnn Sven Nys. Once again, he was. Stybar's notoriety is increasing and we will see how he handles the pressure. I have high expectations for him come late January.
3. Sven Nys (3) – The Great God of Cyclocross continues to struggle to win the way he once did. He's producing more excuses and still seems to suffer from a bit of bad luck. If he can find some late season success, perhaps he can pick-up some rainbow stripes and justify his up and down season.
4. Kevin Pauwels (4) – Pauwels is still a bit behind the top-3 in the rankings. He's clearly better than the rest, but still lacks the ability to attack the lead group. That will come with time though.
5. Francis Mourey (na) – Perhaps the true master of consistency, Mourey has finished 5th in every World Cup race this season. He doesn't race much outside of the World Cups, but still remains one of the best riders in Europe.
6. Martin Zlamalik (na) – Zlamalik finished 7th this weekend, which in and of itself, is very respectable. Zamalik has been on a roll lately, grabbing various podium spots. This may be a sign of better things to come.
7. Radomir Simunek (9) – Finishing just inside the top-10, Simunek continues to ride very well. The issue is he's still not capable of staying with the lead group. His consistency keeps him in the rankings.
8. Gerben de Knegt (6) – de Knegt remains in the rankings this week with another solid result at a major race. As with Simunek, de Knegt is always there, just never at the front. Regardless, he's still a very strong rider.
9. Christian Heule (na) – Heule is back in the ranking after another successful World Cup performance. I had high expectations when he first came back after his US trip. He had dwindled a bit lately though; perhaps he’s just trying to peak a few times this year.
10. Enrico Franzoi (na) – Franzoi's another rider who would be on this list more often if he raced more. Like Mourey, he seems to be a World Cup-only guy, but when he shows, he often does well.

Dropped this week: Erwin Vervecken (7), Klaas Vantornout (5), Bart Aernouts (8), Dieter Vanthourenhout (10).

Both sides of the Atlantic feature important races this weekend. Sven Nys will try to take full command of the Superprestige as it heads to Gavere, Belgium. There are a bevy of other races in Europe as well, but obviously the Superprestige is the biggest and has the most on the line. On the US side of things, it will be a Cyclocrossword/Kona battle for control of the USGP Leader’s Jersey with back-to-back races in New Jersey.

Again, all apologies for the delay in getting the column to you. I know it’s been two weeks in a row, but hopefully it’s worth the wait.

Please share your comments below! Have a great weekend!

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