Here’s Erik Mitchell’s last cyclocross report and Power Ranking of 2009. For more from Erik, visit his site, The Run-up. Feel free to share your comments and questions below.
It's Christmastime throughout the world and that can only mean one thing: lots and lots of European cyclocross racing. Since last week’s Power Rankings came out there have been 4 big races: a Belgian national-level event, a round of the World Cup in Zolder, and rounds of the Superprestige and GVA Trophy. The only consistent theme throughout all 4 races was the domination by the Belgian riders. Nys bookended the week with wins at the Noordzeecross and the GVA Trophy race in Loenhout. In between, Kevin Pauwels picked-up a huge win, taking Round 7 of the World Cup, while Niels Albert won the Superprestige race in Diegem. Needless to say, it was an action-packed week and a great one for the home riders.
Behind the Belgian Brigade, the usual cast of characters jostled for good results. Zdenek Stybar struggled in Zolder, but managed to podium at both the Superprestige ad GVA Trophy races. Behind Nys, Albert, and Stybar, the two stories were Gerben de Knegt—who pulled-out three-straight 4th places—and Sven Vanthourenhout’s conspicuous lack of results. All in all, we're seeing the same faces at the front and nobody really seems to be storming onto the scene. It's safe to say that Albert, Nys and Stybar are the best 3 riders in the world; the rest are struggling to prove they belong in the same class. So, where did everybody land? Time to check out this week’s Power Rankings:
International Power Rankings
1. Sven Nys (1) - Nys retains the #1 position partly because he raced all 4 races this week and partly because no one proved that they were truly better. The only issue for Nys was a crash that knocked him out of the Superprestige race—and most likely the overall title.
2. Niels Albert (3) - Albert's rocky past few weeks have begun to even out. He picked-up 2nd to Pauwels at Round 7 of the World Cup, won a round of the Superprestige, and finished 2nd to Nys in Loenhout. More importantly, he regained control of the Quadruple Crown: UCI Points, World Cup, Superprestige and GVA Trophy. The question is, can he hold it?
3. Kevin Pauwels (10) - As I said last week, Pauwels always responds well when he has a bad race. Honestly though, I didn't think he'd win a round of the World Cup. Nonetheless, the man to watch has suddenly launched himself into the limelight. Unfortunately, Pauwels suffered another letdown with a 16th place in Loenhout. I can't wait to see how he rebounds—again.
4. Zdenek Stybar (2) - Stybar lost major World Cup ground with a 6th-place finish in Zolder. He's only 20 points behind Albert, but when the series continues toward the end of January, he'll probably have other things on his mind. He still remains the only non-Belgian capable of donning the rainbow jersey. He's also the only person able to challenge Albert for the Superprestige overall.
5. Gerben de Knegt (8) - This week's #1 is 34 years-old, followed by guys 24, 26, and 25 years-old. Then there's the man from the Netherlands who made fourth place all his own at the ripe old age of 35. Even with all the consistency he's had this season, de Knegt still surprises me. Perhaps he'll figure out a way to beat these young chaps.
6. Klaas Vantornout (4) - Vantornout finished inside the top-10 three times this week. Points-wise, he's still ahead of Pauwels, meaning his spot for Worlds is nearly locked-up. Vantornout continues to knock on the door of greatness, but I think the aforementioned riders are just that little bit better—at least for now.
7. Dieter Vanthourenhout (n/a) - Three top-10’s mark Dieter's return to the rankings. Each week I write Dieter off—especially after his horrific crash earlier this year—yet he always creeps back into the rankings. He needs to find some consistency to remain here next week, but for now he earns the 7 spot.
8. Bart Aernouts (6) - Aernouts finished inside the top-10 in the three races he entered this week—barely—and is one of about a half-dozen riders battling for a spot on the Belgian Worlds team. I think this year he’s destined to remain in the chase group, but in a few more he should be with the leaders.
9. Bart Wellens (7) - Wellens finished a disappointing 21st in Zolder, but bounced-back with a 5th and a 7th. Wellens needs to remain consistent to have a shot at Worlds; he's still trying to find his race legs after some extensive (forced) time off. He’s only 32 though; he'll have plenty more years to represent his nation.
10. Radomir Simunek (9) - Simunek's 5th in Zolder was his best Word Cup to date and is very surprising since the Czech rider barely makes the top-10 at such important races. He's still young (27) which means he has a few more years to develop before things will really begin to click. At this point in the season, I think his goal is to try and win his national championship (not very likely with Stybar as his main competition) and represent his nation at Worlds, where he may use the hometown crowd to turn some heads.
Dropped this week: Sven Vanthourenhout (5).
The racing madness of "Christmas Week" continues over the next 7 days. However, it mostly consists of national-level races in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Obviously, the bulk of the action will be in Belgium, where riders can contest three straight races beginning New Year’s Day with the GP Sven Nys. Yes, Nys has his own race, which this year is once again a part of the GVA Trophy. It's still a three-man race in the GVA series, with Nys trailing Albert by a mere 5 points. I should also note that next weekend almost every country is hosting its National Championship, which may cause riders to back off a bit this week or not race at all. Regardless, I'm sure many of the big boys will be out to play.
That’s it for 2009—see you next year! And please, share your comments below.