Here's Erik's latest Cross Report and Power Ranking. For more, visit his website, The Run-up. And please feel free to share your comments below.
The New Year kicked-off in style this week with no less than a dozen cross races in Europe. No race was more important than the GP Sven Nys, which in addition to being named after a cross superstar, was a round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy. Nys took the victory himself in incredible fashion over Zdenk Stybar, while Niels Albert finished a distant 3rd. Behind them, Gerben de Knegt continued his push towards a national title and potential World Championship podium, finishing 4th; while a resurgent Francis Mourey took 5th. Beyond the top-5, there were a few surprises, including an absent Bart Wellens and a fading Kevin Pauwels. The rest of the top-ten was filled with the usual cast of characters.
With the prestige of a national title on the line this upcoming weekend, most riders picked and chose their races based on location and form. As a result, besides the GVA Trophy round, only one other race was hotly contested: the mid-week race in Tervuren. Stybar pulled-out the win there while Nys and Pauwels rounded-out the podium. Behind, Albert, Mourey and a handful of other Belgians filled the top-10. While Nys and Stybar had the biggest wins of the week, Bart Aernouts, Mourey and Dieter Vanthourenhout all graced the top step of podiums in other events. Needless to say, everyone appears to be on form for his shot at a national title. Jonathan Page found his way onto a few podiums this week too, which is a great sign heading into Worlds. However, this weekend all eyes will focus on Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic (among others), to see who will wear their nation’s colors for the next year. That said, here's how everyone lines-up this week:
International Power Ranking
1. Sven Nys (1) - Nys chose to only do two races this week placing 1st and 2nd. His win at the GP Sven Nys (go figure) puts him in command of the GVA Trophy, the only series in which he's still in contention. Nys seems to have found his stride, just in time for a shot at a national and possibly world title.
2. Zdenek Stybar (4) - Stybar flip-flopped podium positions with Nys and also picked-up a 4th in Bredene. He's the heavy favorite to win the Czech National title this weekend, but the pressure to win Worlds in front of his home nation keeps mounting. Imagine, being in the lead group on the last lap of Worlds wearing your nation’s colors in front of all your countrymen. For Stybar, it's a distinct possibility.
3. Niels Albert (2) - The reigning World Champion continues to ride just off the pace of the rest of the leaders, especially in the bigger races. He raced 3 times this past week, picking up 2 thirds and a fifth. He's a major contender for the Belgian title this weekend, but Nys seems to have his number right now.
4. Francis Mourey (na) - The Frenchmen finally returns to the rankings this week after a pair of top-10’s and a victory in Sint-Niklaas. To say he's a favorite to win the French National title again is an understatement; the real question is can he return to the lead group at the upcoming World Cups and World Championship.
5. Dieter Vanthourenhout (7) - While Vanthourenhout finished a disappointing 13th at the GVA round this weekend, he also managed a 3rd place and a win in Bredene. He has an outside shot at a Belgian title this past weekend, and is making a strong push for a spot on the Belgian Worlds team.
6. Gerben de Knegt (5) - de Knegt picked up another 4th at the GP Sven Nys this past week. He also managed a 2nd and a 7th at some of the smaller races. Vanthourenhout's win is the only reason de Knegt isn't in the top-5 this week—but that should all change with a Dutch National title this weekend.
7. Bart Aernouts (8) - Aernouts picked-up a stellar win at the GP Groenendal along with a 6th at the GP Sven Nys. While he continues to be a regular in the rankings, he still lacks the ability to contest the lead at the bigger races.
8. Kevin Pauwels (3) - Pauwels struggled to finish 12th in last weekend’s round of the GVA. However, he managed a 3rd behind Nys and Stybar in Tervuren. Perhaps I dropped him too far down the rankings this week; that can all change with a podium spot this weekend.
9. Petr Dlask (na) - Dlask made his presence known this week, picking-up two top-10’s. Dlask's season has consisted of top-20 World Cup finishes and podium spots in the TOI TOI cup. Perhaps his slow and steady build is finally paying off—just in time for the Czech rider to make his country’s Worlds team.
10. Klass Vantornout (6) - Vantornout is the only rider in the rankings this week who only raced once. He picked-up a top-10 at the GP Sven Nys and appears to be prepping for the Belgian National Championships this weekend. He has an outside podium shot, but that's about it.
Dropped this week: Bart Wellens (9) and Radomir Simunek (10).
There are only a few races this weekend, but they're the second-most important of the year as almost every European country will be handing-out national titles. The real fight will be in Belgium where Nys, Pauwels and Albert are all capable of winning. Stybar should pick-up the win in the Czech Republic, Mourey in France, and de Knegt in the Netherlands. However, it's been a year of surprises and great racing, I expect some more this weekend.