If you thought the European cyclocross season ended last week at Worlds in Tabor you're mistaken--there are still several weeks of racing left with some titles still undecided. To give us a run-down of where things stand, Erik's back with his weekly Cross Report and Power Ranking. Let's see where everyone stacks-up! Feel free to leave your comments below!
One week after the spectacle that was the World Championships, the cyclocross community returned to its unofficial homeland for 3 races in Belgium. As is typical of this time of year, unless riders get some serious start money or are in contention for a top spot in either the Superprestige or GVA Trophy, they usually wind down their season. As a result we have another week with some major changes in the rankings. Francis Mourey, Martin Bina, Martin Zlamalik and Christan Heule all elected not to race this week and were dropped from the rankings. Needless to say, things are being shaken-up as we enter the final few weeks of the season.
At the front this week, one man stood out from the rest: Sven Nys. The Belgian champ elected to start all three races this week, winning two of them. And he most likely would have won Wednesday in Maldegem, had he been able to recover from a hard crash on the final lap. Behind him, the newly crowned World Champion, Zdenek Stybar, finished a distant 7th. Last year, Niels Albert finished 13th in Maldegem after earning the rainbow stripes and acknowledged that there's a "rainbow curse" of sorts. Stybar quickly found his legs over the weekend and finished 2nd in Lille (GVA Trophy) and Zonhoven (Superprestige) behind Nys. Kevin Pauwels also rebounded from his poor showing at Worlds to finish on the podium in all three races. Meanwhile, Niels Albert continues to struggle with consistency, winning in Maldegem, but finishing 4th in Lille and 5th in Zonhoven.
Clearly, Sven Nys is the man to beat right now, but where does everyone else fall? Time to find out:
International Power Ranking
1. Sven Nys (3) - Nys could have gone 3 for 3 this week, but an untimely crash spoiled his trifecta. However, his win in Lille has nearly locked-up the GVA Trophy and bumped him up to second in UCI points. The Superprestige might prove too far out of reach for the Belgian, but with a total 3 races left on the calendar, he would love to go out with a bang. It should also be noted that Nys was on antibiotics this week and is just starting to feel healthy—amazing.
2. Zdenek Stybar (1) - The World Champion will be at any and every imaginable cyclocross race over the next year, so it was no surprise to see him line-up for all three races this week. Coming into the weekend, Stybar had a shot at the "Cross Quintuple" (World Championship, World Cup, UCI Points, GVA Trophy and Superprestige). However, Nys spoiled the party by out-sprinting him in Lille. He did do just enough in Zonhoven to even the score with Albert in the Supreprestige though (they're now tied). Perhaps he'll win the Quadruple?
3. Kevin Pauwels (n/a) - Pauwels really let me down at the World Championships, where I had him pegged for a top-10 finish. However, he bounced-back, finishing on the podium in all 3 races this week. He's one of the many stars of the future and while he’s only had one big win this year (Round & of the World Cup Round in Zolder), he has consistently mixed-it-up with the big boys. Next season could be a big one for the young Belgian.
4. Niels Albert (10) - Albert picked up the win in Maldegem after Nys crashed out of the lead, but struggled over the weekend, barely finishing inside the top-five. He's had to watch Stybar storm through the last half if this season and take away the World Cup, the World Championship and UCI points. Hopefully he can grab the Superprestige title, but I'm sure Stybar would love to snag that as well.
5. Klaas Vantornout (2) - Vantornout barely missed the top step of the podium in Tabor; it’s starting to become a theme for the 28-year-old Belgian. In fact, while Vantornout hasn't won a single race this year, he's only finished outside the top-10 once. Talk about consistency! It won’t take much for Vantornout to start picking-up wins next year, but he'll have to contend with the usual suspects for the next decade or so.
6. Bart Wellens (6) - Wellens has bounced around the top-10 during the latter half of the season after suffering a severe illness last year. This week, the 4-time World Champion finished on the podium in Maldegem, but struggled over the weekend. I think at this point, Wellens can toss-out this season and start thinking about next year.
7. Sven Vanthourenhout (n/a) - Vanthourenhout returns to the rankings this week after a string of top-10 finishes. It’s been a rough season for the Belgian and while things have smoothed out a bit, his lack of success at the bigger races kept him off Belgium’s Worlds team. It will be interesting to see if he can turn things around next year.
8. Bart Aernouts (n/a) - Aernouts has had a surprisingly solid season, continuing the trend with a pair of top-10’s over the weekend. He's another Belgian with plenty of years ahead of him; he has some time to make things click
9. Gerben de Knegt (5) - de Knegt finished 10th in Lille, keeping him in the rankings this week. He's the oldest guy in the rankings and the only Dutchmen. The good news is that there's a bevy of younger talent joining the elite ranks over the next few years. But for now, de Knegt is the man in the Netherlands.
10. Dieter Vanthourenhout (n/a) - Dieter is another rider making his long awaited return to the rankings this week. Much like his cousin (Sven), Dieter has had an up and down season and is looking for some positive momentum as the racing winds down. At age 25, he’s still learning how to play with the big boys and should continue to improve every year.
Dropped this week: Francis Mourey (4), Martin Bina (7), Martin Zlamalik (8) and Christan Heule (9).
The GP de Eecloonaar in Eeklo, Belgium will serve as a fine warm-up for the fireworks in Vorselaar on Sunday. The final round of the Superprestige will prove to be the most important race of the series as Zdenek Stybar and Niels Albert are tied for the lead with 95 points. Sven Nys is a distant third with 86 points and his streak of 5-straight Superprestige titles looks certain to come to an end. However, all Stybar and Albert have to worry about is each other, leaving room for someone like Nys to pick-up the win on the day. In case you're wondering, there is one wacky scenario that would allow Nys to win the overall: points go 15 deep (15,14,13, etc.), meaning Nys must finish 6th or better and Albert and Stybar must finish at least nine spots behind him. As far as those two go, Stybar has all the momentum, but Albert will have the home crowd. It promises to be a great race!