Erik's report is a bit late this week--he was in Roubaix doing some advance scouting for his Worlds predictions. He's back now though, and has provided his weekly dose of commentary. For more, check-out his site, The Run-up.
With a bevy of freshly-crowned National Champions, the cyclocross world returned to a bit of normalcy this past weekend with the penultimate round of the World Cup in Roubaix. The course, which finishes on the famed Roubaix Velodrome, has become famous for its harrowing descents and horrific conditions. Sure enough, the sloppy mud and technical nature of the course led to a natural selection containing all of the big names—except Niels Albert who was clearly suffering from the broken rib he received thanks to a run in with a drunk fan at the Belgian National Championship. Zdenek Stybar was the strongest on the day; he rode clear of the rest of the top-5 with a few laps to go. As a result, he takes sole control of the World Cup and UCI Points overall rankings. Behind him, Klaas Vantornout managed to pick-up second place ahead of a self-proclaimed "not fresh enough" Sven Nys. Last year’s winner, Erwin Vervecken, ended-up 4th, a handful of seconds ahead of Bart Wellens.
The two biggest disappointments of the weekend had to be Francis Mourey and Petr Dlask who finished 21st and 22nd, respectively. As a result, both men are dropped from this week’s Power Rankings. Lars Boom also dropped-out of the Rankings when it was announced that the Dutch National Champion will not be a part of the Dutch Worlds Team due to his desire to focus on the Classics—a bit of a shame if you ask me. From an American standpoint, the biggest disappointment of the weekend came on the women's side of things when Katie Compton was forced to the sidelines due to persistent leg cramps. As a result she lost her lead in the World Cup and UCI Points overall rankings. And speaking of the Americans, Jonathan Page was the top US rider, finishing 18th. Ryan Trebon made his European debut; he finished a disappointing 39th.
Zdenk Stybar deserves top honors this week, but where does the rest of the field stand? Time to find out:
1. Zdenek Stybar (2) - With only two weeks remaining before the World Championships, Stybar seems to be making all the right moves. After a solid first half of the season, Stybar has come on hard and as a result he currently leads the World Cup and UCI Points overall rankings. With only one World Cup remaining, the pressure is squarely on the Czechs shoulders—not to mention the pressure he'll face one week later when Worlds are in his backyard.
2. Sven Nys (1) - Nys claimed he lacked the "freshness" to win after a very hectic week. (Sounds like another lame excuse for not winning.) He's out of contention for pretty much everything except the GVA Trophy. However, all will be forgotten if he picks-up a rainbow jersey in a few weeks.
3. Klaas Vantornout (4) - Vantornout continues to climb the rankings after a very strong late-December and early-January. Right now, I consider him the second-best rider in Belgium—even though he got the better of Nys this week. A trip to Worlds is nearly locked-up for Vantornout; a podium finish is not out of the question.
4. Tom Meeusen (8) - Meesuen won another round of the U23 World Cup this weekend and jumped-up the rankings this week. He's the best U23 cross rider in the World right now and has proven that he's one of the top Elite riders as well. The real issue for Meeusen: he's already being called the next Sven Nys—talk about a tough position to be in.
5. Erwin Vervecken (na) - At the beginning of the year I promised that Vervecken would surprise everyone with one last, great, performance. Honestly, I thought a repeat was in the cards on Sunday in Roubaix. Either way you look at it though, the 38-year-old made his bid for a Worlds spot. He still has some time to pick-up one last "big win," but to see him race Worlds one last time would cap-off a great farewell season for the superstar.
6. Bart Wellens (na) - Wellens has been very inconsistent since returning to racing after battling a nasty virus. The 4-time World Champion admitted he was unprepared for the Belgian National Championships, where he finished 14th. However, he bounced-back in Roubaix with a superb 5th-place. It's hard to imagine he'll be left off the Worlds team, but with his inconsistency it could be a big risk to take.
7. Gerben de Knegt (7) - de Knegt continues to ride very well and hasn't let his narrow loss to Boom last weekend effect him. He remains the top Dutch rider in the World and his country's best hope for a medal at Worlds. The 35-year-old is still on my short list of podium contenders; I think he could surprise quite a few people at Worlds.
8. Bart Aernouts (10) - Aernouts finished 7th in Roubaix and as a result, added his name to the Belgian Worlds candidate list. So far, Albert is the only rider guaranteed of a spot since he's the defending World Champion. And, if you go by my recommendations Aernouts and Pauwels (who once again failed to make the rankings) would get the last two spots (of the 7 allotted for Belgium). It's amazing to think that some of these riders may not even make the Belgian Worlds team.
9. Niels Albert (na) - Last week Albert got bounced from the rankings; this week’s 8th-place finish hasn't done much to change my mind. If Albert’s ribs heal a bit more I think he may be able to make a last minute charge for the World Cup and, perhaps, another World Title. Albert's a true wild-card at this point, but one that cannot be ignored. After all, he still leads the Superprestige series and is within striking distance of the lead in the World Cup, GVA Trophy and UCI Points.
10. Steve Chainel (na) – Chainel’s posted back-to-back top-10 finishes in the last 2 rounds of the World Cup. He had huge support from the hometown crowd in Roubaix and for a few laps it looked like he was going to surprise a number of people. It will be very interesting to see how he does this weekend; he continues to improve every week.
Dropped this week: Francis Mourey (3), Petr Dlask (5), Lars Boom (6) and Dieter Vanthourenhout (9)
With one weekend remaining before the World Championships in Tabor, all eyes will be on Hoogerheide in the Netherlands for the final round of the World Cup. Niels Albert trails Zdenk Stybar by only 16 points. Can the Czech hold on, or does the World Champion have a surprise in store? While it will be our last chance to see where everyone stands before Worlds, this weekend will mark Tim Johnson's first appearance in Europe. The former Worlds medalist and current US National Champion has taken an unorthodox approach to Worlds (by training in California) and it's time to see if it will pay-off. As previously mentioned, Katie Compton failed to start last week in Roubaix and has been forced to watch her World Cup title slip away. Can the American bounce back right before Worlds? Or is her season done for good? All in all, a lot of questions will be answered this weekend. But I'm sure a bevy of new ones will arise just in time for the World Championships.