Wednesday Cross Report and Power Ranking

Nationals are over, Worlds beckon–clearly, we’re nearing the end of the 2009/2010 cyclocross season.  Here’s the latest report and Power Ranking from Erik Mitchell–our man in the mud.  For more, go visit Erik’s site, The Run-up.
This past weekend, the superstars of cyclocross split-up and went home as the Belgians, Dutch, Czech, French and Italians (just to name a few) all held their National Championships this past weekend. Arguably, the biggest race is the Belgian Championship—they have the biggest names and the deepest field of any country. Sven Nys’ victory in Oostmalle came as no surprise; the seven-time National Champ has been on a tear lately. In the Czech Republic, it was much of the same as Zdenek Stybar took home top honors ahead of a respectable group of riders. The biggest surprise came in the Netherlands, where Lars Boom seemingly popped-out of nowhere to out-sprint Gerben de Knegt to take the win. All-in-all, it was another exciting weekend; now everyone can relax—sort of—before the World Championships in a few weeks.
Behind, Nys, Stybar and Boom, lies a bevy of riders making their case for a spot on their countries’ World Championship teams. Obviously, the biggest pressure was on the host county’s riders—the Czechs. Stybar proved that he’s the best rider in the land (and possibly in the World) while Petr Dlask continued his late season run, finishing 2nd. Dlask proved he could finish in the top-10 last weekend, but he still struggles with the World Cup races—hopefully that will change. In Belgium, Tom Meeusen (a rider to watch) pulled-off a stunning 3rd place finish behind Nys and Klass Vantornout. Meeusen was forced to race with the Elite Men because he has a professional contract, but will race with the U23 Men at Worlds, as he’s only 21. More surprises came from Belgium where Niels Albert and Kevin Pauwels finished 9th and 10th, respectively. Pauwels simply had a bad day, while the reigning World Champion claimed he was pulled-off his bike by a rabid Nys fan. Regardless, they both had sub-par performances.
As you might expect, Sven Nys and Zdenk Stybar top the rankings this week; but where does everyone else fall? Time to find out:
International Power Rankings
1. Sven Nys (1) – While all National Championships are prestigious, the Belgian race takes top honors. A star-studded field and a crazy race combined for some great action. Nys came out on top, and continues to lead the rankings. He’s once again the talk of the town when it comes to a World Championship, but I’ll reserve that conversation for a later date.
2. Zdenek Stybar (2) – Stybar will have the honor of wearing his National Championship jersey (or at least his national team jersey) in front of a hometown Worlds crowd in a few weeks. He’s one of the few men who can beat Nys and should have the course dialed-in by now (the Worlds course was used for the National Championships). Stybar is also in contention for the World Cup, the GVA Trophy, and Superprestige overalls. He definitely has a lot ahead of him to look forward to.
3. Francis Mourey (4) – Mourey picked up his fifth French National title in style this weekend, narrowly beating Steve Chainel. Mourey had a very strong early season, which quickly tailed-off in December. Two victories in two weeks prove that he’s found his form again, but can he hold it until Worlds?
4. Klaas Vantornout (10) – Vantornout took crazy risks in an aggressive bid for a Belgian National title. In the end he came up short, as Nys overcame a bevy of crashes and mechanicals to win. Vantornout seems able to ride at the front in the races that matter most; he’s definitely a wild card when it comes to Worlds.
5. Petr Dlask (9) – Dlask moved into the rankings for the first time last week and for good reason. He was the only rider who could keep Stybar in his sights and took a well-earned 2nd place. As I said last week, Dlask struggles at the bigger races, but is dominant in his home series (the TOI TOI cup). With a few World Cups coming-up, we will soon see how well he fairs outside of his native land.
6. Lars Boom (na) – Boom returned to the cross scene just in time to pick-up his fourth consecutive elite National title. The former cyclocross World Champ-turned roadie, has not mentioned any intentions to ride Worlds this year. But that may have changed now that he wears his Nation’s colors once again.
7. Gerben de Knegt (6) – de Knegt was my pick to win in Holland, but a last-lap stumble allowed a resurgent Boom to rejoin the lead and out-sprint him for the win. Even if Boom races Worlds this year, de Knegt is still his country’s best shot for a medal. Regardless, the 35-year old is having an outstanding season.
8. Tom Meeusen (na) – While nobody is the next Sven Nys, Meeusen may be as close as we’ll ever get. The 21-year old has won nearly 50% of the races he’s entered this year, dominating the U23 age group along the way. He is the odds-on favorite for U23 Worlds.
9. Dieter Vanthourenhout (5) – Vanthourenhout has continued his strong last-half of the season. His 5th-place finish in Oostmalle was hard-fought. It will be a battle for the last few Belgian spots at Worlds, but Vanthourenhout should have earned his ticket.
10. Bart Aernouts (7) – Like Vanthourenhout, Aernouts rode a solid race in Oostmalle, proving he’s a worthy candidate for a Worlds spot. It will be interesting to see if the Belgian can crack the top-5 over the next few weeks.
Dropped this week: Niels Albert (3) and Kevin Pauwels (8).
It’s back to a bit of normalcy this week in Europe. With the National Championships behind us and the World Championships right around the corner, we’re in the midst of one of the most competitive parts of the season. Right now, team managers are finalizing their Worlds rosters and almost everyone wants to prove worthy of a spot. This weekend there’s really only one race: Round 8 of the World Cup in Roubaix. Last year, the technical course, which goes in and around the famed Roubaix Velodrome, was turned to mud—epic mud. In fact, most riders were forced to run down the descents because it was safer and quicker. In the Overall standings, Niels Albert leads Zdenek Stybar by a mere 20 points, which means the first of that duo across the line should take the World Cup lead. Sven Nys is a distant 3rd and needs a miracle to wind-up the Overall. Last year, Erwin Vervecken shocked everyone with his victory, perhaps Nys can do it again. We’ll have to wait and see!
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About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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