With nearly a dozen national championships on the line throughout Europe, this weekend promises to be one of the most exciting of the year. In addition to the general hype and excitement of national championships, a few late developing storylines have added to the drama. Lars Boom, the defending Dutch national champion, may not even make it to the start line after nasty crash last weekend. Meanwhile, four-time world champion, Bart Wellens, may miss the Belgian national title race due to a crash. Those are just a few storylines, that have made this weekend all that more interesting.
As I said, there are nearly a dozen national championships that are going to be awarded this weekend. We decided to break down what we think are the most interesting and exciting races to watch. I’m not saying that other countries races won’t be as interesting, these are just our picks as the races to watch.
As previously mentioned, Lars Boom may not be able to defend his national title. This leaves all the odds on one of the oldest members of the cross peloton, Gerben de Knegt. De Knegt, seemingly had the race locked up last year, but a determined Boom passed him in the final lap. Should neither man capture the victory, the battle could come down to two of the longest names in cross. Thijs Van Amerongen and Eddy Van Ijzendoorn are the Netherlands best unknown riders. Look for Van Amerongen to land on the top step should de Knegt falter.
Despite his mid-season injury, Zdenek Stybar is the odds on favorite to repeat as the Czech national champion. His top competition, Radomir Simunek, is out with a broken collarbone, leaving Stybar in a world of his own. Martin Zlamalik has had some recent success, but is nowhere near Stybar’s caliber. However, if Stybar has a bad day look for Zlamalik to take the top step.
Two other races of note are the Italian and Swiss national championship races. Obviously in Switzerland, Christian Huele is the heavy favorite. He has been the most dominant Swiss racer this season. In Italy, Enrico Franzoi has to be the top favorite. Even though he hasn’t had a particularly good season, he looks poised to take a national title. Should he not take top honors, Marco Aurelio Fontana, the 2010 champion could take the top spot. On a more personal note, GO LUCA!
Obviously, the granddaddy of them all will be the Belgian race. It will be one of the most exciting and most unpredictable races in years, as there are nearly half a dozen riders who are capable of taking the title. Also, this race will have a heavy bearing on who makes the world championship squad. The usual names will be in contention, however the possibility of an outsider taking the title seems more likely than ever. The battle should come down to Sven Nys and Niels Albert, but anything could happen. If I had put all my money on one rider, it would be Nys and I can guarantee that he won’t have any mechanical issues. I’ll take it one step further and predict that the winner of this race will in the world title at the end of the month.
All in all, it promises to be exciting weekend throughout Europe. With racing from Luxembourg to Belgium to England, the whole of Europe will crown their national champions. More importantly, these races will help determine who will represent their country at the upcoming world championships. No matter how you look at it, this is one of the best weekends for cross in Europe.