The cyclocross season is winding down. In fact, it’s been winding down since the end of “holy week” – all that’s left is to determine the winner of the UCI World Cup and to speculate wildly about the World Championships. Sure, there are two more rounds of the Superprestige series – on Feb 6th and 12th – but I can’t help but feel that a season culminates in the World Championships. After all, what better way to close a season than for a champion to pull on the stripes from the top step of the podium? On the other hand – what more fitting for cyclocross than to have a prominent Belgian series close the season rather than the World Championships?
On Sunday, the final race of the UCI World Cup series will be held in Hoogerheide, in the Netherlands. Here’s who I’ll have my eye on:
- Czech champion Zdenek Stybar will return to racing after training with road pros in Mallorca. It will be a good test of his form a week in advance of the World Championships – he’s taken some time off in the midseason due to injury. Will the end of his season be as thoroughly dominant as the beginning of his season?
- Is Sven Nys coming off of peak form, or has he just had a long run of bad luck? His season has featured some unusual incidents that could throw anybody off their rhythm, including losing a pedal in a sprint, having a mechanic pull him off the bike, and a bout of the flu during the National Championships – among others. He holds a commanding lead in the Superprestige series, but with two races left, it’s not locked up. I’d hesitate to rule him out of doing anything spectacular, ever, but I do think he needs a good ride at Hoogerheide.
- Boy oh boy has youngster Tom Meeusen impressed me this season: first with classy words when he beat Sven Nys due to Nys’s pedal incident (saying that he’d have preferred to win in a straight-up sprint rather than due to a mechanical), and then, a few weeks later, beating Nys in a straight-up sprint. Can he finish the season strongly?
- Bart Wellens has two World Championships under his belt (2003, 2004), and more recently, rode to 2nd place in the Belgian National Championships. He’s my dark horse for the WC win – that is, if his recovery from an injury a couple weeks before the National Championships continues smoothly. Hoogerheide will be a measure of that.
- Francis Mourey has a reputation for racing below his level, but even in bigger races he’s shown power and capability. I’m pulling for him to land a surprise podium finish in the World Championships. He was my pick for 3rd at Pont-Chateau until a crash took him down in the last lap – I’ll look for him to ride strongly this weekend.
See something in common? That’s right – Hoogerheide is a test in preparation for the World Championships. Anybody who has their eye on the stripes this year will have to quit playing around and ride well in Hoogerheide.
Who’s your pick for Hoogerheide? Hold your WC picks close to your chest for now – we’ll argue about that next week.