With Zdenek Stybar opting to skip Round 4 of the World Cup, all eyes were on last week’s winner Niels Albert—along with the rest of the Belgian contingent. Needless to say, Albert didn’t disappoint as his solo victory in Igorre, Spain gave him complete control of the World Cup. In addition, Stybar will miss the Kalmthout round in Belgium on December 19th, meaning that everyone, especially Albert, will be able to make great strides in distancing themselves from the World Champion. In fact, both Albert and Kevin Pauwels jumped over Stybar this weekend, while Francis Mourey and Sven Nys are both within a point of the injured Czech.
The biggest surprise on Sunday wasn’t Albert’s excellent performance—it was the French National Champion, Francis Mourey. Mourey took control of the race early, with Bart Wellens—who recovered well from last week’s disastrous crash—the only rider able to hold his pace. The muddy course soon took its toll on Wellens though. As he faded, Albert was able to break loose from a strong chase group and bridge across to and ultimately pass Mourey. With 2 laps to go, Albert had twelve seconds on Mourey and almost forty seconds on Sven Nys, who had dropped everyone in the almost all-Belgian chase. Things stayed this way for the rest of the race.
With all eyes on the World Cup, most missed the return of former world champion Lars Boom. Boom led from start to finish to win Luxembourg’s Grand Prix Julien Cajot. Ben Berden finished second, while American Jonathan Page rounded-out the podium for third. (All three riders skipped the Spanish World Cup.) Boom will continue his cross season next weekend with a pair of events in Belgium: Saturday’s GVA Trofee in Essen followed by Sunday’s Vlaamse Druivenveldrit in Overijse.
It was another wild weekend in Europe. Once again, Albert came out on top. Nys rode a solid race too, continuing his string of podium appearances. Where does that leave everyone else? Time to find out:
International Power Ranking – Week #11
1. Niels Albert (3) – With two straight World Cup wins, clearly Albert is the man to beat. Coupled with the absence of Stybar, he picked a perfect time to turn on the gas. It will be interesting to see how he does over the coming weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back it off a bit as now he’s in the drivers seat for a World Cup overall.
2. Sven Nys (1) – Nys’ third in Igorre continued his impressive streak of podium appearances. The Belgian National Champion has been on a tear lately, putting himself in position to win the Superprestige, GVA Trophy and World Cup overalls. Stybar’s absence means Nys can gain some major ground on one of his closest competitors. He just has to watch-out for Albert.
3. Bart Wellens (4) - Moving into the third spot this week, Wellens had another solid performance. Considering how badly he crashed last weekend, I was surprised that he even started the race. Wellens seems to be closer every week to a major victory—he just seems to fade a bit over the last two laps. If he can figure out how to prevent that from happening, he could pick up a huge win.
4. Francis Mourey (8) – Last week I said that I thought Mourey was one of the top-5 riders in Europe, but he just needed to venture outside of France a bit more. I honestly thought that Mourey could take the victory in Igorre, even when Albert bridged across. Despites his wins this season, this podium finish was his best result of the year. The best part: Mourey now knows he can beat Nys and has even stated talking about a world championship.
5. Kevin Pauwels (2) – Pauwels drops to fifth this week after a solid fifth-place finish in Spain. As usual, Pauwels struggled a bit in the mud, but is still producing better results than last year. Pauwels has been very consistent this year. Hopefully that will pay-off toward the end of the season.
6. Bart Aernouts (6) - Finishing outside the top-5 in Igorre, Aernouts was the fifth consecutive Belgian across the line after Mourey. (It’s incredible that his seventh-place was one of his nation’s worst results.) Still, Aernouts has hit a bit of a lull lately, something that I’m sure he’ll break out from in the coming weeks.
7. Tom Meeusen (7) – Meeusen has had to battle to make the Belgian World Cup squad after missing the first two rounds. It was a shame he chose not to start on Sunday. With only a week before the next World Cup, hopefully he can continue to produce the results needed to remain on the squad.
8. Gerben de Knegt (9) – The elder statesmen of European cross, de Knegt finished inside the top-10 in Spain. He’s had a great season, but has struggled in the World Cups. But, at the last two World Cup rounds he’s shown steady improvement—a good sign of things to come.
9. Klaas Vantornout (n/a) – Vantornout returns to the rankings this week after his sixth-place in Igorre. He started out the season very strong, but had slowly faded out of the rankings. I’m hesitant to bump him up right now. He needs some consistent results in order to move closer to the top-5.
10. Zdenek Stybar (5) – As of right now, Stybar isn’t scheduled to return until sometime after Christmas. He has opted to take some time off to allow his knee to fully heal. Hopefully the rest will pay-off in the form of another World Championship.
Dropped this week Rob Peeters (9).
There were a few midweek races in Europe this week, but most of Europe’s elite crossers will be making the trip back to Belgium for another round of the GVA Trophy in Essen, Belgium. Kevin Pauwels will start the race a mere four-points behind Stybar. His lead over Nys (who sits third) is 17-points. Clearly, Pauwels is in the driver’s seat for the overall title. Albert won in Essen last year, making him a clear favorite as well. However, Nys has won this race four times and Bart Wellens has won it three times. I’m going to give the nod to Nys, with Albert second and Wellens third. Don’t be surprised if Lars Booms makes a run at the podium as well.
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With five races in Europe on Sunday, there’s the potential for fields to be a bit thin. However, the top riders in Europe will be in Overijse, Belgium for the Cat. 1 Druivenkoers race. I’m going to risk it all and pick Lars Boom to win, with Albert second, and Nys third. That said, Albert won in Overjise last year, Pauwels in 2008, Vantornout in 2007, and Nys in 2006. All four will be on the start line on Sunday. Needless to say, it should be a great race.
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