This past weekend featured a pair of muddy–make that super muddy–courses in Belgium. Saturday’s race in the French-speaking region of Wallonia gave the riders a taste of the epic conditions they would face during Sunday’s Superprestige round in the Flemish town of Hamme-Zogge. Both races involved large amounts of running due to the extreme amounts of deep mud and water. In fact, racers spent almost 50% of the race on foot as large chunks of the courses were completely unrideable.
The 13th edition of the Grand Prix de la Région Wallonne proved to be a slow, grinding affair, one that saw French National Champion Francis Mourey take the victory in a two man sprint. Mourey, Martin Zlámalík and Gerben de Knegt ran and rode their way into a lead group early on in the race—and with laps times at nearly eight minutes, it was clear that the race was to be a battle of the strongest willed more than anything else. In the end, de Knegt fell-off the pace and Mourey turned on the jets in the finishing straight to beat Zlámalík for the win. American Jonathan Page finished with an impressive fourth-place finish ahead of Bart Wellens.
With a majority of the big names skipping Saturday’s race, it was no surprise that Round Three of the Superprestige on Sunday featured all the top stars. Sven Nys came out on top, seizing control of the Superpestige overall from World Champion Zdenek Stybar. And much like Saturday’s event, Nys and company spent the hour riding and running through ankle deep mud.
Niels Albert, and Klaas Vantornout set much of the early pace and finally established a gap with four laps to go. Nys was able to bridge though, making it a three-man battle at the front. The leaders traded blows throughout the final lap, with Vantornout taking a strong lead after an acceleration through one of the running sections. But Nys was not to be outdone: the Belgian National Champion closed the gap and kept right on going. Vantornout made one last dash for victory, but once the race hit the pavement, it was a done deal. Albert held-on for third while Bart Wellens put in yet another impressive ride to finish fourth. Rob Peeters held-off Zdenek Stybar for fifth.
It was a tough muddy weekend of Belgian cyclocross. Mourey’s win Saturday was great, but Nys’ ride Sunday was nothing but impressive. Is the Belgian champ back for good? Only time will tell, but for now he remains #1 on our list. Let’s see where everyone else falls:
International Power Ranking – Week #8
1. Sven Nys (1) – With his first Superprestige win of the season, Nys proved he’s here to stay. The win marks his fourth consecutive victory of the season and puts in him the driver’s seat for an unthinkable 10th Superprestige overall title. How long he can sustain this form remains to be seen, but with GVA Trophy and Superprestige events on tap this weekend, all eyes will be on the Belgian National Champion.
2. Niels Albert (3) – Albert continues to ride well this season. His third place on Sunday was well earned, but he still lacks the ability to really challenge for the victory. With Stybar fading, Albert could be the first to capitalize if Nys struggles. If anyone can find a way to beat Stybar and Nys, Albert may be that guy.
3. Bart Wellens (6) – With a pair of top-5 finishes last weekend, Wellens continues to impress. In fact, he was the only rider to finish inside the top-5 both days. I feel as if Wellens is on the verge of a breakout victory, but he’ll have to defeat some very strong competition in the process. One thing’s certain: with another World Cup round a few weeks away, the four-time World Champion looks to be a lock for the Belgian squad.
4. Klaas Vantornout (9) – Jumping-up five spots this week, Vantornout was quite impressive in his second-place finish in Hamme-Zogge. Vantornout’s acceleration through one of the long, muddy running sections looked as if he had the victory in the bag—even he admitted that he thought it was the winning move. Overall, Vantornout has come close to victories several times this season—perhaps he’ll another shot this weekend.
5. Zdenek Stybar (2) - With a sixth-place finish Sunday, Stybar slips to his lowest ranking of the year. However, if Stybar’s goal is a World Cup overall and another World Championship, he could be right on track. He’s coming back from a minor back injury as well—I’m sure that didn’t help in one of the toughest races of the year. This weekend is key if he wants to remain in the hunt for a GVA and Superprestige overall. If he fails, he may be forced to focus on other goals.
6. Kevin Pauwels (4) – Pauwels has historically struggled in the mud and is definitely not a runner. His recent success seemed to buck that trend, but the race in Hamme-Zooge showed that he still struggles. That said, his seventh-place was impressive in a race that saw pretty much everyone struggle. I think he’ll be back on the podium this weekend—unless it rains all week.
7. Francis Mourey (8) – After a surprising and impressive victory Saturday, Mourey skipped Sunday’s Superprestige. The Frenchman has spent the last few weeks at home, racing locally and grabbing some key UCI points. It will be interesting to see how he does this weekend when he steps back onto the big stage.
8. Bart Aernouts (5) – Aernouts finished tenth on Sunday, marking one of his worst results of the year. The young Belgian needs to be careful as everyone is fighting for those valuable World Cup team spots. Look for Aernouts to rebound nicely this weekend, perhaps even picking-up a pair of podium spots.
9. Rob Peeters (10) – Joining the rankings last week for the first time ever, Peeters is clearly enjoying the muddy Belgian conditions. He finished inside the top-10 both days this past weekend, with an excellent fifth-place result on Sunday. With another solid weekend, Peeters could grab a spot on his nation’s exclusive World Cup squad.
10. Gerben de Knegt (n/a) – The “new” elder statesmen of cyclocross, de Knegt was the third rider to finish inside the top-10 in both races this past weekend. I’m dying for him to win a big race this season and I think that he may have his best shot in the coming weeks. If not, a Superprestige or even World Cup podium would still be impressive.
Dropped this week: Tom Meeusen (7).
As I mentioned, there are GVA Trophy and Superprestige events this weekend. Obviously, all the big contenders will be there. are you ready for another great weekend.?
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