With no major races this past week, many European riders used this past weekend to rest, relax, recover and train. However, some of Belgium’s best went to a national event in Ronse, the GP Mario DeClerq. Being a national level event, the race offered no UCI points and was only open to Belgian riders. Due to this, there was a wide discrepancy in the level of the field—the event was dominated by Sven Nys, who won by nearly a minute. In fact, only nine riders finished on the lead lap and many of Belgium’s top riders dropped out early in the race.
The course and conditions resembled last Monday’s Koppenburg race, which was obviously right up Nys’ alley (he won it). Behind the Belgian champion, Niels Albert outsprinted a five-man chase group to finish second, with Tom Meeusen finishing third. The relatively unknown Jan Denuwelaere took fourth, and Rob Peeters fifth. Bart Wellens, Sven Vanthourenhout and Klaas Vantornout all abandoned midway through as rain turned to hail and Nys turned-up the pace to take another dominant win.
Thursday’s Jaarmarktcross in Niel, Belgium isn’t part of any series, but remains a marquee race nonetheless, where heavy rains and cooler temperatures turned the course into a mud-fest. With Zdenek Stybar absent due to a minor training accident, all eyes were on Nys. Bart Wellens grabbed the early lead, but was passed by Nys when he accelerated at the start of the second lap and was then joined by Niels Albert and Kevin Pauwels. Halfway through the race, Nys accelerated again, destroying everyone in the process. The attack left Albert trailing Nys by almost twenty seconds, Pauwels by thirty, and Wellens by nearly a minute.
Then the unthinkable happened. In one of the most unusual spectacles ever seen at a cyclocross race, Nys entered the pit and found that none of his mechanics were there. Nys remained impressively calm while his lead evaporated as he stood in the pits waiting for a bike. Finally, after about fifteen seconds, he received a clean bike from an opponent’s mechanic and took off, shedding Albert once again en route to his third straight victory. Albert finished second, while Wellens used the final few laps to pass Pauwels and take third place, 1:33 down. Behind Pauwels, Rob Peeters rounded out the podium in fifth.
It goes without saying that it’s been a phenomenal two weeks for the Belgian National Champion. Combine Nys’ three wins with the fact that Stybar is dealing with an injury and the face of cyclocross in Europe may drastically change. Was Nys’ performance this week good enough for #1 in the Power Ranking? And where will everyone else fall? Time to find out:
International Power Rankings – Week #7
1. Sven Nys (3) – Three consecutive victories, including two this past week, net the Belgian Champ the #1 spot, marking the first time this year that Stybar isn’t on top. Nys has the whole of Belgium wrapped around his finger right now. Has the god of cyclocross returned? Only time will tell, but right now, he’s the best rider in Europe.
2. Zdenek Stybar (1) – After losing his first race on the slopes of the Koppenberg, I was looking forward to seeing how Stybar would rebound in Niel. Stybar spent the past 10 days in Spain training with a group of non-Belgian pros and his teammate Kevin Pauwels. Unfortunately, a locked-up back and some knee pain forced Stybar to skip the Jaarmarktcross. Hopefully he races this weekend, so we can see him and Nys battle it out once again.
3. Niels Albert (4) – It’s clear that Albert is back and enjoying a solid season. However, he appears to be the perennial second-place. When Stybar dominates, Albert is usually the lone rider trying to chase him down. Now that Stybar isn’t dominating though, Albert still remains a step behind. The former World Champion is still young and definitely knows how to win though; it’s just a matter of time before he puts everything together.
4. Kevin Pauwels (2) – Pauwels dropped two spots this week despite the fact that he continues to ride well. It was frustrating to see him lose a place during the final few laps yesterday, but finishing fourth in that race and in those conditions is very respectable. As I said in last week’s column, Pauwels usually struggles in the slop, so to see him perform so well means he’s having a superb season. Now, where’s that big win?
5. Bart Aernouts (5) – Aernouts was one of a few Belgians who elected to use this past week to rest and recuperate before returning to action this weekend for Superprestige #3. Then we’ll get a true idea of if his mini-rest will pay off.
6. Bart Wellens (8) – My favorite part of Wellens’ races are his post race comments. After Niel, Wellens admitted that he was so excited to lead the race that he went out too hard—it’s awesome to hear that a four-time World Champion still gets excited to lead a race. Hopefully he can lead the race across a finish line sometime soon.
7. Tom Meeusen (9) – Since being denied a spot on the Belgian World Cup team, Meeusen has had some impressive results. His sixth-place in Niel coupled with his third in Ronse amplifies his good form. With the next round of the World Cup still a few weeks away though, Meeusen needs to continue these great results. If he does, he should make the squad.
8. Francis Mourey (6) – Mourey skipped yesterday’s race in Niel to do a Cat. 1 race in Nommay, France where despite being the heavy favorite, he ended-up sixth. While it’s not a terrible result, Mourey is usually unbeatable on French soil. The French National Champion should be on the start line for Superprestige #3 where he’ll look to rebound against Europe’s elite cross racers.
9. Klaas Vantornout (7) – Vantornout seems to be slipping as the courses get muddier. I really thought he had something special going this year, and maybe he still does. His #9 spot here leaves him plenty of room to move up.
10. Rob Peeters (n/a) – This young rider is one of many who suffer from the fact that he was born in Belgium. As a result, he missed-out on the first two rounds of the World Cup, but has posted some solid results since. With a pair of top-5’s this week and a lot of momentum going into Round 3 of the Superprestige, he has an outside chance of making the Belgian squad.
Dropped this week: Gerben de Knegt (10).
After a minor lull in the schedule, Europe’s best cross racers will be back in action this weekend. I’ll have a full preview and predictions later today, along with a quick run-down of how I fared last week. Also, with all of this talk about making/not making the World Cup team, I’ll being doing a full breakdown of how the World Cup works in the coming weeks. Hopefully it makes things a bit clearer to those feeling a bit confused.