Just like last week, we have two new #1 riders in the rankings. Domestically, Jeremy Powers was one of a handful of big name riders to have raced this past weekend, and he won both races he entered. On the other side of the pond, things were a bit more interesting, and very surprising. Zdenek Stybar continued his run with a third straight victory, this time picking up a World Cup race. Sven Nys finally took his 50th Superprestige race victory and appears headed to a possible 10th overall title. In the end, Nys' 2nd place to Stybar and his sheer destruction of the Superprestige field gave him the #1 nod this week. On both continents, there is no longer one dominant force (although it was refreshing to watch Nys ride away from everyone like the goed oude dagen). Instead, we are seeing fast group sprints in Europe and smaller groups waiting until the last few laps to split in the United States. Either way, it has made for some exciting action, and should prove to be very interesting down the stretch.
Now to the rankings: the post-Turkey Day battles will have to wait another week in the United States, as most riders decided to take the weekend off. Jeremy Powers looked good in his back-to-back victories in Massachusetts, as did Dan Timmerman who picked up a pair of podium spots. Todd Wells may have been the real story of the weekend though, as he stormed to three straight victories in Iowa. Derailed the weekend before, but clearly dominated the three-day mid-Western affair. This weekend, there are two huge weekends of racing in Oregon and I think most riders used last weekend as one last chance for rest before the chaos and madness ensue. As a result, the rankings were left somewhat intact and are now more of a predictor of how I think things will fair over the coming weeks. That said, here are this week’s North American rankings:
North American Rankings1. Jeremy Powers (2) - With a pair of victories, Powers moves into the #1 spot. Powers broke out last year and has continued his hot streak just behind teammate Tim Johnson. He's proved that he can win on his own, and with three big US races left, perhaps he'll seize the opportunity to take another.
2. Tim Johnson (1) - Johnson wrapped-up the NACT in style. With a victory this weekend and some space between him and Ryan Trebon, he could win the USGP. Honestly, I don't think he'll do it. Not because he can't, but because he'd rather use this weekend as a tune-up for Nationals, where he should be a favorite to win.
3. Jamey Driscoll (3) - Driscoll's consistency was been his calling card all weekend. While I'm sure he'd like another big result at Nationals, perhaps this weekend he'll try to win the USGP overall. It would be a terrific way to cap a solid season, and could give him the mental edge to go for it at Nationals.
4. Ryan Trebon (4) - The current USGP leader, Trebon finally heads home to the Pacific Northwest this weekend. He'll have two rounds of the USGP in Portland, before heading to Bend for Nationals. He's had some time to relax and train at home after months of traveling; now it's time for “Tree Farm” to make a statement
5. Dan Timmerman (10) - I like Timmerman in the #5 spot. He's been the guy just behind the lead group all season, but he's starting to break through. This past weekend he picked-up two more podium spots and is almost assured of the NECCS overall title. A top-5 at Nationals is where he belongs, but he could surprise us with something better.
6. Adam Craig (5) - Craig burst onto the scene over a month ago in Colorado. Many—including myself—thought it was a one-time deal for the mtb star. Instead, Craig has found his ‘cross legs and continues to surprise. If there's mud in Portland this weekend, he should finish on the podium. Either way, Craig has played his cards right this year and is reaping the rewards.
7. Chris Jones (6) - Despite weeks of saying how Jones has become a true cross rider, I keep waiting for him to disappear from the top-10 at the major races. But he’s still there and a good showing over the next few weeks should shake the rest of the doubt out of my mind.
8. Todd Wells (na) - I first made mention of Wells when he placed 3rd at Day Two of the Mercer Cup. Since then he's had some setbacks, but bounced-back nicely to take three straight victories in Iowa. Wells won Nationals four years ago in abysmal conditions; if he holds his form and the weather turns ugly, he could be a surprise podium contender.
9. Valentin Scherz (7) - Scherz will most likely skip a trip to Portland this weekend in order to wrap-up the MAC overall in Virginia. The "Swiss Sensation" will then return to Europe where I expect him to do quite well.
10. Justin Lindine (na) - Lindine is either a New Englander who had a good weekend at home, or a rider who has found some late season form. Either way, two podium spots net him the last spot in the rankings, putting him on the radar for the weeks still to come.
Dropped this week: Barry Wicks (8) and Geoff Kabush (9).
Internationally, Zdenek Stybar grabbed GvA Trophy, Superprestige, and World Cup victories in consecutive races. Clearly the Czech has found his stride. However, after narrowly beating Sven Nys on Saturday, Stybar (and the rest of the field for that matter) were blown-away by the Belgian superstar on Sunday. In addition to all the Superprestige records he continues to set, Nys is proving that he still has it. That—combined with a slowly fading Niels Albert—could set the stage for a Sven Nys comeback during the latter half of the season. Or perhaps another young superstar will breakthrough? Behind the two winners this past weekend, we saw some very familiar faces in some unfamiliar territory. Most notably, Niels Albert managed “only” a 4th and a 3rd this weekend, some of his worst results of the year. Kevin Pauwels continues to impress, finishing in the top-10 both days, including an impressive ride behind Nys on Sunday. While my top-10 continues to prove to be the best (9 of the top 10 riders finished in the top-10 last weekend), there were some minor changes as two riders got dropped.
1. Sven Nys (3) - Nys finally took the top step of the podium en route to his 50th Superprestige race victory. But that alone doesn't net him the top spot in the rankings. Nys narrowly lost to Stybar on Saturday and bested the field by nearly thirty seconds on Sunday as Stybar finished almost a minute and a half down. Thus, Nys is #1; and I feel confident he's back for good.
2. Zdenek Stybar (1) - If Stybar continues to ride like he has the past to weeks, he may wind-up the favorite for Worlds. It’s crazy to think there's a non-Belgian capable of capturing cross’s biggest crown. With Lars Boom out of the picture, Stybar is the only man left who can stop the Belgians from ruling the sport.
3. Niels Albert (2) - It's a slippery slope as Albert falls to 3rd this week. The real issue here is that Albert performance track record is unknown at this point in the season. Last year, Albert was the only man capable of controlling Nys, until he crashed and was out until Worlds. This is a key time in Albert's season as he didn't race at this time last year. That said, it's not time to hit the panic button—yet.
4. Klaas Vantornout (4) - Vantornout continues to finish with the leaders, and is having a stellar season. He stumbled a bit on Sunday, but is a podium contender at any race he enters. He still seems capable of a big win, but the three guys ahead of him will prove tough to beat.
5. Kevin Pauwels (5) - Pauwels picked-up a huge 2nd place behind Nys on Sunday after struggling a bit during the World Cup race Saturday. To say that Pauwels is knocking on the door is an understatement. It’s halfway open; he just needs to walk through. He'll do it soon enough.
6. Bart Aernouts (6) - Aernouts continues to ride just behind the lead group at major races, but is always near the front of the chase. He's still relatively young and I expect him to close the gap jump sometime soon, but it's rough to be a Belgian not named Nys or Albert.
7. Francis Mourey (7) - If there's a place where you can bet on World Cup cross races, please let me know: Mourey's a lock for 5th place. The Frenchman finished fifth once again in the World Cup race on Saturday. He backed it up with a top-10 finish on Sunday. Any guesses on how he'll do this weekend?
8. Sven Vanthourenhout (na) - Vanthourenhout blasted-out of the starting grid this season, but seems to have lost his way over the past month or so. Two top-10 finishes have put him back on the map and leaving hope that he can turn things around during the last half of the season.
9. Erwin Vervecken (na) - The “farewell” tour has been quiet as of late for Vervecken. He finished 8th last weekend in Koksijde and continues to ride in the first or second chase group. Vervecken is a crafty "old man" though, and will leave us with one last win at some point this year. But like everyone else, Vervecken will have to continue to earn his spot in the rankings.
10. Gerben de Knegt (9) - de Knegt slipped just outside the top-10 on Sunday, but finished 7th at the World Cup race on Saturday. At age 35, he's still riding incredibly well and might be able to pull off something special later this year.
Dropped this week: Radomir Simunek (8) and Enrico Franzoi (10).
Clearly the action in the US will be in Portland where the USGP wraps up with two-days of racing this weekend. There will be two UCI races in Rhode Island for those looking to grab some last minute points back East. This will be the spot where Dan Timmerman will most likely wrap-up the NECCS overall. In Portland, the favorite has to be Ryan Trebon. I did well with my predictions last week, so I'll try again this week: Ryan Trebon should walk away with the USGP overall. However, Tim Johnson needs to win at least one race to establish his dominance in the Northwest before Nationals. Overall, I expect the weekend to be very exciting.
In Europe, all eyes will focus on Igorre, Spain this weekend for another round of the World Cup. The weather promises to be drastically different than what the riders have faced over the past few weeks. Niels Albert needs a podium place to stay in the thick of things, while Stybar's best chances are in a sprint. But I'm giving the nod to Sven Nys. Nys has been "right there" for most of November and I don’t expect that to change this weekend. However, as we have seen, the European cross field is full of surprises. Perhaps there will be another this weekend.
Have a great weekend! Share your thoughts below.