Here's Erik's latest Cross Report and Power Ranking. For more from our cross expert, check-out his site, The Run-up. And please, share your comments below.
In what was supposed to be the weekend where the World Cup overall would be decided—or at least create a clear leader—the opposite happened. We are now left with a tie for the World Cup title between Niels Albert and Zdenek Stybar—each with 435 points. More importantly, a resurgent Sven Nys has thrown his hat in the ring with three World Cup races remaining after taking the victory in style this weekend in more than deplorable conditions in Kalmthout, Belgium. Nys’ race was marred by some first lap disasters including a dropped chain and a crash, but he battled back, taking the lead on the final lap—where he crashed once again near the finish. Needless to say, Nys proved that he can win when it counts; he's perhaps the best rider in snow, sleet and rain. Behind Nys, it was the usual cast of characters with Stybar picking-up 2nd and Albert holding-on for 3rd. As a result, Stybar got the points he needed to tie Albert for the overall lead. With a few races left, Nys needs to put some serious distance between himself and Albert/Stybar if he wants to capture the title.
The severe weather wreaked havoc on the rest of the field and produced some very unique results. Thus, there will be a few riders staying in the rankings this week that might have otherwise been eliminated—most notably: Radomir Simunek and Kevin Pauwels. There was also a race on Friday in Belgium that can be considered a precursor to Sunday’s World Cup where Nys picked-up the victory with Tom Meeusen (a name for the future) and Stybar rounding out the podium. Albert finished a distant seventh. All in all, it was a good weekend for Nys, The races continue prove there's great parity in cyclocross’ upper echelon. That said, here's this week’s rankings:
1. Sven Nys (2) - Nys took home an "epic" victory in Kalmthout proving once again that you can never count out the elder statesman. He's in the thick of things in the Superprestige and GvA Trophy while a World Cup overall may be just out of reach. The next few weeks will prove critical to the Belgian Champion's season if he wants to win any of the major cross series—not to mention the elusive rainbow jersey, which will be awarded in about one month.
2. Zdenek Stybar (3) - The Czech superstar continues to prove he belongs at the front, doing just enough in Kalmthout to capture a share of the World Cup overall. With 3 races left, it's a crapshoot between him and Albert. And let’s not forget: there's nothing like winning the World Championships in you're own country.
3. Niels Albert (1) - Albert's season began in almost Nys-like fashion. He’s since cooled-off a bit though, and as a result things have become quite interesting. Albert, Nys and Stybar are all in contention to win the GvA Trophy, Superprestige and the UCI overall ranking. To say that every race matters for these 3 would be an understatement.
4. Klass Vantornout - Vantornout returns to the rankings this week with a stellar 4th place in Kalmthout. Even with a half-lap to go, Vantornout was in contention for the win. He hasn't finished better than third this year and with the aforementioned riders I don't think he'll buck that trend any time soon.
5. Sven Vanthourenhout - Vanthourenhout stole Francis Mourey's usual 5th-place spot (Mourey finished 8th). He continues to have an up-and-down season, but seems to have more down’s than up’s lately. Perhaps he's beginning to turn the corner for a solid end to the season.
6. Bart Aernouts (5) - Aernouts managed to survive the mess with a top-10 finish in Kalmthout. At this point in the season he should definitely make the Belgian World's team and continues to have an outside shot at a podium placing.
7. Bart Wellens - Wellens' comeback hit another bright spot with a 9th-place on Sunday. It remains to be seen if he can return to the front of the field, but with increasingly good results, I have high hopes for him.
8. Gerben de Knegt (9) - de Knegt continues to surprise me with his consistent riding. He's the best Dutch rider this year (not bad for a 35-year-old), but remains chase group fodder. All things considered, that's not a bad place to be.
9. Radomir Simunek (7) - Simunek finished 4th in Friday's race and was in the lead group on Sunday. Sadly, a nasty crash knocked him out. Regardless, he continues to be one of the stronger riders this season.
10. Kevin Pauwels (4) - Pauwels had his worst result of the season on Sunday, finishing 32nd. He placed 6th on Friday and clearly suffered under the deplorable conditions in Kalmthout. It's only his third finish outside of the top-10 this year though, which is impressive. He also tends to bounce back very well following a bad result.
Dropped this week: Dieter Vanthourenhout (6), Enrico Franzoi (8) and Jonathan Page (10).
It's Christmastime throughout the world, which means one thing: lots of cross races. Over the next few weeks there are nearly a dozen cross races throughout northern Europe. This weekend holds the most prestige with a round of the World Cup and the Superprestige. There's also a GvA Trophy event next week. Needless to say all eyes will be focused on Albert and Stybar this weekend in Heusden-Zolder for Round Seven of the World Cup. However, another win by Nys wouldn't surprise me. With a win in Diegem on Sunday, Nys could all but lock-up his 10th Superprestige overall, but Albert and Stybar are only two and four points behind, respectively. Needless to say it will be no easy task and I can't wait to watch the fireworks.
Have a terrific holiday!