As promised, hereâ€™s a run-down of this yearâ€™s major European cyclocross series and races.
The oldest cyclocross series in the world enters its 29th season this year. Nearly a third of those seasons have been won by one man: Sven Nys. Nysâ€™ bid for a 10th Superprestige title came up short last year after several bad results, and an unfortunate DNF; it was the first time he didn’t win the series title in six years. In his newest bid, heâ€™ll have his hands full with last yearâ€™s winner, Zdenek Stybar, and runner-up, Niels Albert.
The series itself welcomes a new race this year, Middelkerke, which replaces the North Cross race in Vorselaar, the oldest race in Belgium. Gieten (Ned) will host the only non-Belgian round of the Superprestige series on November 28th. Another interesting note about this yearâ€™s series is that the bulk of the eight-race schedule occurs over three weeks in November. Thereâ€™s no Superprestige round in the month of January, and only one in December, two days after Christman.
Among the Belgian and Czech favorites will be American Jonathan Page. The Superprestige series is unique in that you must have a contract to race. All the big names have been invited, with no surprising omissions. Belgium has 14 riders; the Netherlands and Czech Republic have 5; while Italy, Slovakia, Poland, Germany and the US each have 1 rider. All-in-all, it promises to be an exciting series, beginning right away with the October 10th kick-off in Ruddervoorde.
The GVA Trophy
The GVA (Gazet Van Antwerpen) Trophy has the distinction of holding the first and last big race of the 2010/2011 European cross season. Last yearâ€™s Trophy was won by Sven Nys, which marked his seventh overall title, and sixth consecutive. That said, he was only six points ahead Zdenk Stybar. Stybar took advantage of mid-race sprints and consistent results, but fell just short of the overall. This year, partially due to fast mid-race laps, the series will feature a ranking for the fastest lap. This could allow riders who arenâ€™t in contention for the overall to go for the fastest lap title.
Traditionally, the GVA Trophy is spread-out evenly over the course of the season. However, this year, itâ€™s stretched so far apart that thereâ€™s only one consecutive race week and just one round in October and January, thus enabling riders to essentially peak for every race. At a mere two days apart, the Loenhout and Baal races are the only exceptions.
The series is always exciting and is traditionally owned by Belgians. Stybar has gained some strong support from the Belgian crowed, but national hero Sven Nys should be the home favorite as he guns for his eighth title. The opening-round in Namen (October 3rd) will be our first true look at this years star-filled cross field. One of the biggest surprises could be Tom Meeusen. To say that Meeusen dominated the U23 field last season would be an understatement. Heâ€™ll step it up to play with the big boys this year, and is another top-notch Belgian threat.
The UCI World Cup
In some ways, the World Cup seems to have fallen behind the esteem and appeal of the Superprestige and GVA Trophy series over the past few years. However, Niels Albertâ€™s mid-season implosion made it one of the most exciting series to watch. Albert dominated the first half of the World Cup series, only to watch it go down the drain as Zdenek Stybar bested him by 4-pointsâ€”the smallest margin of victory ever. To put it in perspective, Sven Nys finished third overallâ€”100 points behind Stybar.
This season, the World Cup continues its tradition of going to places other than Belgium to other cross hot-spots. The opening round will be in Aigle, Switzerland, home to the UCI, on October 17th. This also makes it the last of the three major European series to start. Plzen (Czech Republic) will then host Round 2 before the series takes a one-month break. Koksijde will host the first of three rounds in Belgium split only by the annual pilgrimage to Spain.
Thereâ€™s no Roubaix World Cup this year, which will be a disappointment to many, and the traditional Nommay race will be replaced by a round in Pont-ChÃ¢teau. Italy also misses out on a World Cup event this year. The series wrap-ups in Hoogerheid (Ned.) just before the final weekend in January hosts the World Championships in St. Wendel, Germany. The last time worlds were in St. Wendel (2005) Belgian Sven Nys took home top honorsâ€”just sayingâ€¦
In addition to these series, there are some individual races that stand-out on this yearâ€™s calendar. CrossVegas, which recently announced its intentions to be a warm weather US and European season finale (February 2012), has taken a decidedly European flavor this year with several men taking the trip west from abroad. As a result, it should be our first look at whoâ€™s hot in the US and who could be a podium contender in Europe.
In addition to a whoâ€™s-who of domestic racing (including US National Champ Tim Johnson and Americaâ€™s Euro-based star, Jonathan Page), national champions of France (Francis Mourey), Italy (Marco Fontana), Denmark (Joacim Parbo), Hungary (Zoltan Tisza), as well as the elite (non-professional) national champions of Belgium (Geert Wellens) and Germany (Rene Birkenfeld) will all be taking the starting line. It should be an eye opener for all involved.
Other races to watch occur during the holidays. The weeks surrounding Christmas and New Yearâ€™s feature racing virtually every day and often take-on an American flavor as the best in the US venture to Europe following Nationals. Between December 19th and Janurary 2nd, there are 13 races in Europe. The standouts are the Kalmthout and Zolder rounds of the World Cup, the Diegem round of the Superprestige series and the GP Sven Nys round of the GVA Trophy. It promises to be the most competitive few weeks of the cross season.
As you can see, this yearâ€™s European season is shaping up to being one of the best ever. But since things donâ€™t kick-off in Europe for another few weeks, next weekâ€™s column will be a bit of a surprise.
Come back soonâ€”and share your comments below.