With just one weekend left before the US National Championships, chaos ensued in Portland, leaving more questions than answers. Many, including myself, thought it would be a two-horse race in "the showdown" at the final two rounds of the USGP; however, by the time the dust settled, two new riders had thrown their hats into the ring for a national championship. Todd Wells and Jeremy Powers came-off the previous weekend’s victories to dominate the competition in two of the closest races we've seen all year. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Czech National Champion Zdenek Stybar proved that he's a force to be reckoned with by winning his second-straight World Cup race. The usual protagonists were there, including a frustrated Niels Albert and a bitterly disappointed Sven Nys, but it was the first time this season we saw daylight between Stybar and the rest of the field, albeit by 6 seconds.
It would appear that Stybar's win is the beginning of another shift in Europe. For the first two months, it was Niels Albert pulling-out all the victories, now it's Stybar's turn. How long it will last is anyone's guess. Obviously he's hoping to have this kind of form and luck come the World Championships in January. The only common thread behind these two dominant figures is Sven Nys' issues. To be fair, Nys has suffered an extraordinary amount of mechanical problems this season. This time however, it was a lapped rider that apparently got in his way. I just hope that these aren't excuses for a lack of domination. Behind these three, things continue to change including a surging Jonathan Page and a consistent Erwin Vervecken. One last note, after all of the hype over the past few weeks, Francis Mourey suffered his worst result of the season—15th. A returning Bart Wellens took his place in 5th. Here are this week’s International Power Rankings:
1. Zdenek Stybar (2) - Last week Stybar dropped-out of the top spot and perhaps that was the motivation he needed to win another World Cup race. The biggest thing to take away from his victory was the fact that he did it solo. This means he can win the hard way and in sprints. That’s dangerous.
2. Niels Albert (3) - Albert moves up a spot after a solid 2nd-place finish on Saturday. Albert saw Nys take sole control of the Superprestige last week and is close to losing his World Cup overall lead to Stybar. He still controls the UCI overall ranking and the GVA Trophy series, but those leads are closing as well. He needs to figure-out something soon, or he may be left with nothing at all.
3. Sven Nys (1) - A big drop for Nys this week. Could he have won? I think so. Nys isn't what he used to be, but he's close. I give him the edge to take control of the GVA overall this weekend, meaning he has to best both Stybar and Albert.
4. Klaas Vantornout (4) - Vantornout continues to ride very well. He's slowly getting his shots at victory and it wouldn't surprise me if he pulls one out sometime this year. For now, he'll have to settle as “the guy behind the big three”.
5. Bart Aernouts (6) – Aernouts’ 6th place on Saturday moves him up one spot this week. He continues to finish just outside the lead group this year; I don't expect that to change any time soon.
6. Bart Wellens (na) - Wellens' return to the World Cup was very impressive this past weekend. He picked-up 5th place and thus, has returned to the rankings. I'm not going to say he's here to stay, but I see this as a sign of things to come. It's nice to see him back racing.
7. Gerben de Knegt (10) - The elder statesmen of the Netherlands continues to ride well. I keep saying that his best years are behind him, but at this rate, I can't wait to see what he'll do next. Either Vervecken or he will do something special this year.
8. Radomir Simunek (na) - Simunek bounces back into the rankings after a nice top-10 finish on Saturday. While his countryman continues to get all the press, Simunek is showing he's capable of mixing it up with the best in the world.
9. Erwin Vervecken (9) - Vervecken's newfound consistency keeps him in the rankings this week, ultimately knocking-out my man Kevin Pauwels. The Farewell Tour has been very kind to Vervecken and I couldn't be happier. If only he can show-up these young punks sometime soon.
10. Jonathan Page (na) - In the North American rankings, I allude to who I think will don the stars and stripes. Page scored his biggest result of the year this past weekend, finishing 8th in Spain. He will return to the US this week, giving us a true idea of where the US and Europe stand. Let's just say I think he's found his form.
Dropped this week: Kevin Pauwels (5), Francis Mourey (7), and Sven Vanthourenhout (8).
In the USA, things are coming down to the wire; just when I thought I had my Nationals pick locked-in, two new riders surged to the front of the men's race. While Ryan Trebon took the USGP overall and Tim Johnson ended-up on the podium both days, Wells and Powers stole the show. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this newfound duel was the fact that Wells and Powers were the only two riders who raced the weekend before—in fact, they both dominated the competition. Behind, Jamey Driscoll failed to impress as he wound-up 5th on Saturday and 7th on Sunday. The only real surprise was Adam Craig who continued his late season cross campaign with a 4th place on Sunday. In New England, Dan Timmerman grabbed two victories en-route to a NECCS overall title. He will surely be a wildcard at Nationals this weekend.
So, as we head into the final weekend of racing in the United States, here's this week’s Power Rankings:
North American Rankings
1. Jeremy Powers (1) - Powers rode extremely well this weekend, narrowly missing victory on Day One to Todd Wells. He was able to reverse that on Sunday though. Is he the next National Champion? I'm going to let that question linger. It should be noted that the following 3 riders represent the only National Champions this decade not-named Jonathan Page.
2. Todd Wells (8) - A few weeks ago I tipped Wells for some late season magic. Who knew that he would produce four-straight UCI wins? A crafty finish on Sunday prevented him from five-straight, but the two-time National Champion seems poised for another title.
3. Tim Johnson (2) - Johnson struggled a bit (relatively speaking) behind Powers and Wells. He knows how to win when it counts, but I'm surprised to see him drop a spot in the rankings. He'll be the third rider on the starting grid and is still a heavy favorite.
4. Ryan Trebon (4) - Trebon's up and down season continued in Portland. While he did manage to wrap-up the USGP overall, he looks a bit behind the form that saw him win Nationals last year. While he's still a favorite in my book, he should probably wear the stars and stripes all week—it may be a long time before he wears them again.
5. Jamey Driscoll (3) - "Mr. Consistency" slipped a bit as well this week. Perhaps it was the pressure of the USGP, or maybe it was just a bad weekend. Either way, Driscoll popped onto the scene with a silver medal at Nationals last year, perhaps he'll shock the world once again.
6. Dan Timmerman (5) - Timmerman wrapped-up the NECCS overall with another pair of UCI victories. I have high hopes for the New Yorker this upcoming weekend, but honestly, I don't expect him to win. He's in my top five though, especially after barely losing to Jeremy Powers the week before.
7. Chris Jones (7) - A pair of top-10 finishes keeps Jones in the rankings, but he seems to have dropped back to become the perennial leader of the chase group. But like the rest of the guys in the rankings this week, he's still within striking distance of the podium.
8. Geoff Kabush (na) - Kabush already has his National Championship jersey, so he'll take this weekend off. He continues to ride well though, and I expect some decent results if he chooses to visit Europe this winter.
9. Daniel Summerhill (na) - Summerhill has had a quiet cross season thus far, but when he races, he does well. He's my pick to win the U23 jersey at Nationals, I just hope his road commitments for next year don't clog his mind or his legs.
10. Adam Craig (6) - Craig responded well from a disappointing 11th on Saturday, finishing 4th on Sunday. He has an outside shot at a podium this weekend, but the odds that the mountain bike superstar picks-up the stars and stripes are slim.
Dropped this week: Valentin Scherz (9) and Justin Lindine (10).
This weekend, the biggest US race of the year concludes a stellar North American season. I won't make my outright predictions here (you can visit The Run-up for my predictions of every US National Champion), but I think I've outlined the contenders pretty well. As usual, I expect a big surprise this weekend, but it won't come from anyone outside of this week’s rankings. All that's left is to watch what may be the most exciting National Championship race in years.
While all eyes in the US will be on Bend, Oregon, there's a bevy of races throughout Europe this weekend. Most importantly, there is a round of the GVA Trophy in Essen, Belgium. All the big names should be there, but the focus will be on Nys, Albert and Stybar (what else is new?). Those three are separated by 4 points in the GVA rankings, so one of them should finally take command of the series.
What about you? Who are your picks for Nationals? What about the GVA—how do see things shaping-up?
Share your comments below.