Following last weekend’s World Cup, several riders made the trip back to their respective home countries, while some stayed in the Czech Republic for the Velka Cena Mesta Tabora in Tabor. The last time we saw the world gather in Tabor was for last year’s World Championships, where Zdenek Stybar stole the show. This time around, Radomir Simunek Jr. shocked everyone by becoming the first rider to defeat Stybar this season. It was a bittersweet victory for all involved though, as Simunek dedicated the victory to his recently deceased father. As for Stybar, not only did he fail to win, he finished outside the top three, placing fourth on the day for his “worst” result of the year. Behind Simunek, Christoph Pfingsten finished second and Steve Chainel came across the line in third. The only other notable finish was Niels Albert who came in right behind Stybar for fifth.
For the first time this season, Europe was filled with racing this past weekend with races in the Czech Republic, England, France, Spain, Switzerland and Belgium. Obviously, the biggest race of the weekend—on Halloween—was the latest round of the Superprestige series in Zonhoven, Belgium where after suffering through his first non-win of the season, Zdenek Stybar powered away from a strong field to take his eighth victory in nine races.
Stybar made the selection during the first lap, leaving only six riders within shouting distance of the World Champ. The borderline ridiculously sandy course has become a staple in Europe, producing some of the most amazing racing of the year. The course features massive sand dunes and elevation changes, making it incredibly demanding. It was in one of these technical sand sections where Stybar attacked the group of six, establishing the gap that would provide him with his second Superprestige victory of the season.
Behind Stybar, chaos ensued as the group of six splintered. Niels Albert and Kevin Pauwels formed the first chase group, while Sven Nys and Bart Aernouts formed a second. Behind, Bart Wellens rode his own pace, settling-in for a sixth-place finish. The action wasn’t done yet however, as a spectator nearly (accidentally) knocked Stybar off his bike allowing, the chasers to narrow the gap. Pauwels rolled across the line second, only seven seconds down while, an angry Nys finished third. Aernouts wound-up fourth and a fading Niels Albert held on for fifth.
After Sunday’s mayhem in the sand, everyone headed to the infamous Koppenberg for the annual All Saints Day rendezvous—recently a round of the GVA Trophy. Sven Nys surprised many by riding away from the rest on the first lap. He was clearly able to handle the muddy, technical course with ease on the way toward his eighth Koppenberg victory—and his first major victory of the year. Niels Albert overcame a poor start (at one point he was outside the top thirty) to finish second, over one minute behind Nys. Kevin Pauwels rode a solid race and finished third.
Stybar, who crashed at one point and found himself back in seventh-place, was able to recover, ultimately finishing fourth to maintain his GVA Trophy lead. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was American Jonathan Page, who led almost the entire first lap until Nys attacked. Unfortunately, the American’s race quickly unraveled after a downhill crash forced him out of the top-10. He would eventually finish 25th.
All in all, it was a wild week in Europe. Stybar finally showed signs that he may be human, while Nys returned to the top step of the podium. Behind, the usual cast of characters battled it out, with some showing signs of great form, and others fading quickly. Let’s see how this week’s rankings shaped-up:
European Power Rankings – Week 6
1. Zdenek Stybar (1) – Despite only winning 1 out of the 3 races he entered this past week, Stybar remains the best rider in Europe. After all, he’s won 8 out of the 10 races he’s entered, and never finished lower than fourth. He still controls all the major series in Europe and has been in the driver’s seat for so long that it’s going to take a lot to dislodge the World Champion from his perch. Stybar’s taking some time off to train in Spain right now, when he returns it will be interesting to see how he performs.
2. Kevin Pauwels (2) – Pauwels keeps his second spot this week after a pair of podium finishes. His second place in Zonhoven was impressive, considering he had Stybar within his sights several times on the final few laps. And even though he finished third on Monday, he was very close to reeling in Niels Albert and finishing second. Most importantly, he’s improving: last year Pauwels would have been nowhere near the front in the deplorable conditions that surrounded the Koppenberg Monday.
3. Sven Nys (7) – Moving-up to third spot doesn’t mean that Nys is back; it just means he’s riding really well right now. The Belgian champ was ecstatic about his win on the Koppenberg and hopes it will carry him for a couple of weeks. The only downside to the win is that the moment he slips and doesn’t finish in the top-3, everyone is going to be talking about his age again. Pressure’s back!
4. Niels Albert (3) – After fading a bit during the final laps of the Superprestige race on Sunday, Albert rebounded with a strong second place finish in Monday’s race. It has been a very impressive comeback for the former World Champion, but he still seems to be missing that extra gear that will take him to the front of the race.
5. Bart Aernouts (4) – Aernouts drops one spot after finally having a “bad” weekend—his eighth-place finish at Koppenberg marks one of his worst performances of the year. That said, his fourth-place the day before in Zonhoven proves he’s in the midst of a phenomenal season.
6. Francis Mourey (6) – Mourey remains in sixth this week despite picking-up a victory and a second-place. The French National Champion stayed home, skipping the Superprestige and GVA Trophy races, losing a two-man sprint to Steve Chainel on Sunday and obliterating the field on Monday. Mourey’s M.O. last year was dominance in France and strong rides elsewhere, but he’s already bucked that trend with a strong start to the season. I think he’s using this time to recharge his legs and keep his confidence high—there’s still a lot of season left.
7. Klaas Vantornout (5) – There were almost a dozen riders who dropped-out of the second round of the Superprestige in Zonhoven—Vantornout was one of them. However, he bounced back with an impressive fifth-place finish in the mud at Koppenberg. After showing some great early season results, Vantornout continues to slip a little each week. Hopefully, he won’t drop any further down the rankings.
8. Bart Wellens (10) – Wellens rebounded from last weekend’s poor World Cup showing with a pair of top-tens in two of the most difficult races of the year. I really want to see Wellens breakout a big win this year, but for now I’ll settle for continued consistent riding. Plus, he needs to make sure he remains on the Belgian World Cup team.
9. Tom Meeusen (8) – Somehow Meeusen managed to drop a spot this week despite a pair of top-10 finishes. The young Belgian still has a few more weeks to prove he belongs on the Belgian World Cup team. With his continued success, it will be hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve a shot.
10. Gerben de Knegt (n/a) – One of cyclocross’ elder statesmen joins the ranking this week after an impressive sixth-place result at Koppenberg. De Knegt also finished just outside the top-10 in Zonhoven as well. After a strong start to the season (third at CrossVegas and ninth at the first round of the GVA Trophy), de Knegt hasn’t raced much outside of the World Cups and appears to be very selective about his race program. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his season pans out.
Dropped this week – Dieter Vanthourenhout (9).
As I said with yesterday’s Domestic Report & Power Ranking, I’m forgoing my customary brief weekend preview for a more in-depth preview and predictions tomorrow. Featuring a breakdown of all of next week’s major races in the US and Europe, along with all sorts of predictions. Come check it out!
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