With the holiday week in the books, it’s time to find out where everyone lays heading into this weekend’s national championships. Last week’s top three (Albert, Nys, and Stybar) remains the same, albeit in a different order. Let’s see where everyone lands for Week 15:
1. Sven Nys (2) – Nys ends up on top with two second places and one first since last Thursday. Had he not bobbled at the race in Tervuren, he most likely would have ended the week with two victories. He’s the favorite for another Belgian national title this weekend.
2. Niels Albert (1) – Albert looked superb all week, but ended his holiday run with “only” two thirds and one victory. His victory was impressive though, as the course in Tervuren was a complete mess. Albert appears to be peaking at the right time though and is another heavy favorite for a national title. Should everything come together for the Belgian over the next few weeks, he could be the National, World Cup and wWorld Champion.
3. Zdenek Stybar (3) – After a little over a month off, Stybar returned to racing with several podium appearances. His win at the Sylvester Cross shows that the World Champion is coming back into form at just the right time. After losing a chance at pretty much every series title this season, all that remains is the opportunity to win another national and world title. However, his seventh-place on Sunday leaves me wondering what exactly he’s capable of.
4. Klaas Vantornout (n/a) – Vantornout rockets back into the rankings after pair of top-ten finishes. He’s starting to look like the Vantornout of old. I don’t expect a win from the Belgian, but he is definitely a candidate for the podium at Nationals.
5. Bart Wellens (4) - Wellens has had some great success over the past few weeks, including a fifth-place at the GP Sven Nys on New Year’s Day. However, a crash in Tervuren has jeopardized his run for a national title and a potential World Championship squad spot. If anybody can rebound quickly, Wellens is that man. But time is not on his side.
6. Kevin Pauwels (5) – Pauwels’ poor technical skills have come into play over the past two weeks. While he managed two top-ten finishes, his inability to hang with the leaders has cost him a shot at the GVA Trophy and Superprestige. If he can overcome his handling issues, he’s a real podium threat throughout the rest of January.
7. Francis Mourey (6) – Mourey decided to stay close to home this past week as has become the norm for the French National Champion. He picked-up a pair of victories in Bussnang and Petange. Despite weaker fields, Mourey looked very impressive and remains on my short list of candidates for the rainbow stripes.
8. Tom Meeusen (n/a) – Meeusen’s third-place Sunday was one of the most impressive races I’ve seen the youngster race both mentally and physically all season. He is becoming a true team player and has virtually assured himself a spot on the Belgian World Cup and Worlds team. Meeusen ended the week with a pair of top-ten finishes, including a podium appearance in Tervuren. Last year, he made a name for himself by racing with the elites at Belgian nationals. While I don’t think he’s going to win, a spot on the podium is not out of the question.
9. Lars Boom (7) – Boom looked like he was on track for another stellar victory at the GP Sven Nys before a nasty crash on one of the course’s many icy sections took Boom out of the race—leaving doubts about his participation at Nationals. While he would love another national title, Boom’s focus is clearly on the road and another potential injury—or an aggravation of his current injury—would clearly jeopardize his success. Therefore, I will not be surprised if he skips Nationals.
10. Gerben de Knegt (8) – Despite not racing the last half of the week, de Knegt still remains in the rankings. His biggest win of the season could be this weekend if he manages to win another national title. With Boom’s participation in doubt, he has become the front-runner for the title.
Dropped this Week: Philip Walsleben (9) and Bart Aernouts (10).
Obviously, all eyes will turn to the various national championships this weekend. From Luxembourg to England to Belgium, virtually all of the European national titles will be on the line. It promises to be one of the most unique and interesting weekends of the year, especially since Worlds is only a few weeks away. Stay tuned for a look at what you can expect to see this weekend.
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