Wednesday Cross Report and Power Ranking

Only a few weeks left for Erik Mitchell’s Weekly Cross Report and Power Rankings.  It was a fantastic weekend of racing.  For more insight and analysis, head to Erik’s site, The Run-up.  As always, feel free to share your comments and insights below.
In what was billed as one of the best cyclocross races in years, the 2010 World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic delivered the fairy tale story every rider (and fan) dreams about. Wearing his nation’s colors, Zdenek Stybar destroyed one of the best fields ever assembled, and collected the Rainbow Jersey in front of a hometown crowd. Stybar spent more than half the race by himself and wound-up winning by 21 seconds. Behind, the usual heads of state were noticeably absent, as a bevy of somewhat unsung riders made their bids for podium spots. Sven Nys, the other early favorite, found himself out of contention for the win, and could only watch as fellow countryman Klaas Vantornout picked-up the Silver Medal. Nys held-on for Bronze, while defending champion Niels Albert dropped-out with a few laps to go.

Vantornout wasn’t the only surprise of the day. Behind the two Belgians, three more Czechs made their way into the top-10: Martin Bina (4th), Martin Zlamalik (6th), and Radomir Simunek (8th). I guess there’s something about racing on your home soil that leads to extraordinary performances. Mixed among the surging Czechs were a few other surprise names; Francis Mourey finished 5th and Christian Heule drifted back into 7th. Tim Johnson was the top American, using a late surge to wind-up 14th. Needless to say, when a World Championship is on the line, we get a chance to see wonderful performances from riders we rarely talk about.

All in all, it was one of the best races of the year, and one that will be remembered for a long time. In terms of the rankings, obviously Stybar takes the top spot this week, but where does everyone else fall? Time to find out:

1. Zdenk Stybar (1) – In what still must seem like a dream, Stybar proved that he’s the best in the World right now by winning the rainbow stripes in his home nation. Stybar will be going for it all over the next few weeks. He already has the World Cup Overall Title and the World Championship and is well within striking distance of the Superprestige and GvA Trophy series. Only time will tell if the Czech can win the Quadruple Crown.
2. Klaas Vantornout (3) – Vantornout continued his impressive run of top-5 finishes with a silver medal in Tabor. This tied his best result of the year (at the Roubaix World Cup) and has firmly planted him as one of the best Belgian cross riders. He hasn’t won a race this year, but has only finished outside the top-10 once. Even if he doesn’t pick up a win this February, he’ll still be a major threat next year.
3. Sven Nys (4) – In typical Nys fashion, the Belgian superstar failed to win the biggest race in the World. He has promised to race cross until 2013, leaving him a few more opportunities to take another World Championship. Nys appeared to have good form, but his superb technical skills were nowhere to be found. He has two more races left in the GvA Trophy to defend his lead and wrap-up the overall. That’s really all that matters for him at this point.
4. Francis Mourey (n/a) – Mourey may never win a race outside of France, but he’s still one of the best cross racers in Europe. His 5th place was no surprise (he’s had six of them this year), but the fact that he was on a verge of a podium spot definitely turned a few heads. Perhaps he’ll surprise us with a win later this month, or maybe he’ll continue his impressive streak of 5th places.
5. Gerben de Knegt (8) – de Knegt struggled a bit in Tabor, but finished just inside the top-10. He remains the best Dutchmen in the world right now and has resurrected his career at age 35. With the retirement of Erwin Vervecken, de Knegt becomes the elder statesmen of cross next year, but I’m sure his results won’t show it.
6. Bart Wellens (n/a) – The four-time World Champ struggled to make the Belgian team this year, but with a 10th place in Tabor, he proved he belonged there all along. Due to the bizarre illness he suffered last fall, it’s been a tough season for the Belgian. I think he’s really looking forward to next year; we’re hoping he hopes to get back to the greatness he once showed.
7. Martin Bina (n/a) – Bina was the first of many Czech riders to surprise everyone in Tabor. He lost a shot at the podium thanks to a devastating sprint from Nys. Still, his 4th place was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. This will most likely be Bina’s best result of the year, but leaves hope that he may be able to produce similar results more consistently next year.
8. Martin Zlamalik (n/a) – Zlamailk’s 6th place was yet another Czech surprise. In fact, the Czech Republic finished with more riders inside the top-10 (4) than any other nation this year. Much like Bina, Zlamalik hasn’t had much success in the bigger races this year, but while it might have been a result of home field advantage, the future looks bright for the Czech Republic right now. It’s shaping-up to be a Czech vs. Belgian battle for years to come.
9. Christan Heule (n/a) – Heule raced in America in September before heading over to Europe where he produced some good results. Over the past few months his success has fizzled though, making his 7th place all the more remarkable. At age 35, Heule’s career is almost over and while it’s not clear when he’ll bid the cross world adieu, a top-10 at Worlds isn’t a bad way to go.
10. Niels Albert (2) – Albert really didn’t prove much coming-off his victory in the final round of the World Cup a week ago. He failed to finish on Sunday in Tabor and was never better then 12th during the race. But while he lost the World Title and the World Cup this year, he still has a shot at the Superprestige and GvA Trophy. It’s going to be a tough end to the season for the young Belgian if he fails to win at least one of those titles.

Dropped this week: Erwin Vervecken (5), Kevin Pauwels (6), Tom Meeusen (7), Bart Aernouts (9), Jonathan Page (10).

While the cycling world begins to turn its head towards road races in Southern Europe and Qatar this week, the cross boys will be battling it out in Belgium. With only a few weeks left in the season, it’s time to wrap-up the Superprestige and GvA Trophy. There’s a mid-week race in Maldegem, but the real fireworks begin on Saturday in Lille, with another round of the GvA. Sven Nys will be going for broke as he tries to defend his lead over a rocky Niels Albert and the newly-crowned World Champion, Zdenek Stybar. On Sunday, the trio moves to Zonhoven for the penultimate round of the Superprestige series. Nys needs a miracle to win this overall, but another victory on home soil is always nice for the Belgian Champion. Meanwhile, Stybar and Albert will battle it out for the lead heading into the final round next weekend in Vorselaar. Needless to say, there’s no rest for the weary.

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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