The 2009-2010 cyclocross season is winding down, but there's still one major event on the itinerary: the World Championships this weekend in Tabor, Czech Republic. Erik's back again this week with his Weekly Report and Power Ranking. For more--including Erik's in-depth World Championship Preview, visit his website, The Run-up. As always, leave your comments for Erik below.
Just when I had written-off Niels Albert’s chances for a Worlds repeat, he comes storming through to surprise everyone, winning the final round of the World Cup in Hoogerheide, Netherlands. Needless to say, it was a bittersweet weekend for Albert, because Zdenek Stybar did just enough to take home the World Cup overall, finishing 2nd. Stybar received a heap of help from his teammate Kevin Pauwels who finished 3rd and never really challenged Stybar’s bid for his first World Cup title. Pauwels was followed across the line by fellow countrymen Klaas Vantornout and Sven Nys to fill-out the top-5. And, with the Belgians picking up 6 of the top 10 spots, they're clearly ready for the World Championships this weekend. Behind the Belgian brigade, Gerben de Knegt finished inside the top-10 in one of his final few races in his home country this year, while American Jonathan Page managed to hold-on to his early success to finish 8th. All in all, it was a very exciting final round of the World Cup; and a number of great story lines still remain for the World Championships this weekend in Tabor, Czech Republic.
In Holland, Albert picked-up the win, but Stybar wound-up with the jersey. So who's Number One this week? Time to find out:
1. Zdenek Stybar (1) - Stybar did just enough to take the World Cup overall with his 2nd place on Sunday. In the end, that's good enough to stay Number One here. The Czech National Champion will have a lot of pressure on him in front of his fellow countrymen this weekend in Tabor. So far, he's been able to handle it well, but Worlds is all about national teams, meaning Stybar will be without much help and almost all alone against the Belgians this weekend.
2. Niels Albert (9) - Albert simply rode away from the leaders on Sunday and really never looked back. He jumps-up 7 spots this week and seems to have found the form that brought him early season success. A few weeks ago, he said a Worlds repeat was out of the question. However, with Sunday’s performance, he's on my list for the podium, and could definitely pick-up the win.
3. Klaas Vantornout (3) - Vantornout continues to quietly ride his way into the lead group, hanging-on for several top-5 finishes. He hasn't shown the ability to attack the "big boys", but always seems to be near the front when the winning moves are made. With a bit of luck and some great legs, the Belgian could find himself in the middle of the battle for the Rainbow Jersey.
4. Sven Nys (2) - Nys was the best of the chase group in Hoogerheide, raising a lot of questions. The most popular regarded Nys' decision to race on Saturday in a meaningless Belgian race (which he won). The other big story was Nys' comments about Sunday's race not mattering ahead of Worlds. Bottom line: Nys needs to win on Sunday to make everyone forget his antics and excuses.
5. Erwin Vervecken (5) - Vervecken narrowly missed a second consecutive top-5 World Cup finish on Sunday. With his recent string of success, Vervecken has to be a favorite to podium in his final World Championships. Here's a good tidbit to chew on: Vervecken has won three World titles; his first came in 2001—in Tabor.
6. Kevin Pauwels (na) – Pauwels’ podium finish launches him back into the rankings. He remains a wild card for a podium spot at Worlds, but it would take a lot of luck for him to take the top step. Regardless of how he does, Pauwels is another young Belgian who will have plenty of opportunities to pick-up a World Championship jersey in the future.
7. Tom Meeusen (4) - Much like Stybar, Meeusen wrapped-up his U23 World Cup overall with a second place in Hoogerheide. Meeusen is the odds-on favorite to win the U23 World Championships in Tabor, and is another Belgian superstar-to-be. He has already proven that he can race with the best in the world and thus remains in the rankings.
8. Gerben de Knegt (7) - de Knegt may not be the Dutch National Champion, but he has proven this year that he's the best rider from his country. He'll lead his nation on Sunday in Tabor and should finish inside the top-10. A podium spot seems out of the question at this point, but de Knegt continues to surprise everyone—even at age the of 35. Imagine if Nys (34), de Knegt (35), and Vervecken (38) were to finish on the podium!
9. Bart Aernouts (8) - Aernouts has rarely cracked the top-5 this year, but rides consistently in the top-10. His consistent season has earned him a Worlds spot. Clearly, he's capable of a top-10 in Tabor, but anything better would be major surprise.
10. Jonathan Page (na) - Page's 8th place on Sunday surprised everyone, including myself. As a result, Page will have a second row start in Tabor along with a lot of confidence. While he's capable of a top-10 this weekend, I think a podium spot is out of the question. That said, he shocked the world in 2007—could he do it again?
Dropped this week: Bart Wellens (6) and Steve Chainel (10).
Unless you haven't been paying attention, the 2010 Cyclocross World Championships take place in Tabor, Czech Republic this weekend. Overall, it’s been an incredibly exciting year and the World Championships promise to be no different. Belgium and the Czech Republic will both start seven riders, each country receiving a bonus rider due to having the current World Champion (Albert) and World Cup overall champion (Stybar). Belgium will start four former World Champions (Wellens, Nys, Vervecken and Albert). The odds-on favorites are Stybar, Nys and Albert, but a surprise could be lurking around every turn. All in all, it promises to be a battle to the end, one that I cannot wait to see. Enjoy the fireworks!