My apologies for skipping last weekâ€™s column. The turkey, family and a birthday celebration for my little one piled-up too quickly and things got away from me. That said, itâ€™s time to get back on track. Before we cover this past weekendâ€™s action, hereâ€™s a quick review of what we missed the previous week.
Kevin Pauwels picked-up his first victory of the season in exciting fashion at the GVA round in Hasselt two Saturdays ago, holding-off teammate and World Champion, Zdenek Stybar, and Belgian National Champion, Sven Nys with a blistering last lap pace. As a result, Stybarâ€™s overall lead in the series was cut to four points over Pauwels, while Nys remained in the third, 11-points behind. On Sunday, Sven Nys earned a hard-fought victory over Pauwels in a two-up sprint at the Superprestige in Gavere. Niels Albert came across the line 22-seconds later in third. With the victory, Nys extended his Superprestige lead over Stybar to five points, while Albert moved into third, ten points behind Nys.
This past weekend began with Round Three of the World Cup in Koksijde, Belgium where Niels Albert surged ahead of an impressive chase group near the midway point of the race. It was a wonderfully dominating victory for the former World Champ, and marked a return to form of a rider that cannot be ignored any longer. Behind, Zdenek Stybar and Sven Nys allowed Bart Wellens to slip away as they marked each other. Stybar was ultimately able to get past Wellens on the final lap before Wellens stumbled on a slight rise, briefly holding-up Nys who was luckily able to pass Wellens later on his way to a third-place finish. Wellensâ€™ last lap struggles continued though, as Bart Aernouts surged by him for fourth. Americans Jonathan Page and Tim Johnson suffered on the 2012 World Championship course. Johnson pulled-out with two laps to go (after a front row starting position), while Page wound-up 21st.
Perhaps the most surprising and craziest race of the season occurred Sunday in the Netherlands at Gieten. Here, young Belgian superstar, Tom Meeusen, picked-up his biggest victory of the year in the fifth round of the Superprestige. With many riders still suffering from Saturdayâ€™s efforts, a four man lead group established itself midway through the race consisting of Tom Meeusen, Sven Nys, Dieter Vanthourenhout, and Radomir Simunek Jr. Coming into the finishing stretch, most expected Nys to pick-up the win. However, Nysâ€™ left pedal snapped while the riders positioned themselves for the finale (13:15), forcing Nys to run across the line for fourth. Simunek beat Vanthourenhout for second behind Meeusen. Kevin Pauwels was the next rider to cross the line, finishing fifth.
Thus, weâ€™ve seen a different podium at just about every race over the past few weeks. How does this affect the rankings? Time to find out.
International Power Ranking
1. Sven Nys (1) – Nys has been on a roll for over a month now. Since the last time we posted the rankings, his worst result has been fourthâ€”from the now infamous broken pedal incident. Had he not snapped that pedal, I think he would have won on Sunday. Nevertheless, Nys now controls the Superprestige and appears to be in the thick of things at every race. While heâ€™s made up some ground in the World Cup overall and the GVA Trophy though, they both seem a bit out of reach. Thereâ€™s a long way to go though; anything can happen.10
2. Kevin Pauwels (6) – In addition to his victory in Hasselt, Pauwels racked-up three top-ten placings over the past two weeks. Most impressive was how Pauwels finished eighth in the World Cup and rebounded to finish fifth in Gieten. He was the only rider besides Nys who was able to recover and race well following the race in Koksijde. His recent success also puts him in a position to capture the Superprestige and/or GVA should his rivals have a bad day.
3. Niels Albert (2) – When Albert won in Koksijde, my first thought was â€œfinallyâ€. Many times this season, the former World Champion seemed to be just off the pace when the bid for victory was made. This time, he simply rode away from a star-studded field on perhaps the toughest circuit in the World Cup. His DNF on Sunday was disappointing, but the previous dayâ€™s effort was clearly worth it.
4. Bart Wellens (3) – Wellens has found his legs once again and has remained remarkably consistent. He suffered from a really bad crash in Gieten, which hopefully will not further affect his season. Heâ€™s finished inside the top-5 in the previous three races though and looks poised for a victory.
5. Zdenek Stybar (5) – Although Stybar finished second twice in the past two weeks, he finished fifth in Gavere and a disastrous 14th in Gieten. I still think heâ€™s capable of winning the World Cup overall and the GVA Trophy, but he needs to be careful. That said, starting off the season the way he did, anything but utter domination is disappointing.
6. Bart Aernouts (8) – Aernouts moves up two spots after four straight top-10 finishes. For a while, Aernouts looked on target for a major victory, but for now, heâ€™ll settle for a podium spot. He may be the least-talked-about Belgian, but that seems to be working for him.
7. Tom Meeusen (n/a) – Many, including myself, will argue that Nys would have won on Sunday if his pedal hadn’t broken. Still, Meeusen won and no one can take that away from him. He still remains a bit low in the rankings because his consistency is lacking. He finally made the Belgian World Cup squad; he finished an impressive ninth in Koksijde. However, heâ€™s asked to be left-off for the trip to Spain. Hopefully the decision wonâ€™t come back to haunt him.
8. Francis Mourey (7) – The French National Champion has stayed mostly in his native land over the past few weeks. He did however finish sixth at the World Cup in Koksijde. Honestly, I think Moureyâ€™s better than the eighth-place ranking Iâ€™m giving him this week. He just needs to venture outside of France a bit more to stay near the top-5.
9. Gerben de Knegt (10) – de Knegt has finished inside the top-10 in the past three races heâ€™s entered, including a seventh in Koksijde. The 36-year-oldâ€™s worst result this year has been eleventh (in the first two World Cup rounds). I want to see him on the podium a few more times this year, something heâ€™s definitely capable of.
10. Rob Peeters (9) – Peeters did just enough to make the Belgian World Cup squad and finished thirteenth in Koksijde. However, that made him the worst-placed rider on the team. Despite his constant top-10 finishes, it will be a fight for Peeters to keep his spot for this weekendâ€™s round in Spain. Pressure can be a good thing though.
Dropped this week: Klaas Vantornout (4).
So thatâ€™s it for this week’s International CX Report and Power Rankings.Â Where should you favorite rider have landed?Â Share your comments below.