Initial reports from St-Wendel in advance of this weekend’s Cyclocross World Championship races are that it will be bitterly cold. If there’s no snow, the frozen ground will be hard and fast. The course does feature some tricky sections – Podium Insight tweeted a picture of reigning champion Zdenek Stybar having a bit of difficulty with an off-camber section during some practice runs.
The last time that the World Championships were in St-Wendel, in 2005, Belgians swept the podium, and with the strength of this year’s team, it appears a possibility again. However, rumors of infighting suggest it’s entirely possible for somebody else to take advantage of a less-than-harmonious Belgian team and leap away for the victory as Belgians stare each other down, each unwilling to work for the other.
Niels Albert is the the hands-down favorite, who has dominated this winter. If anybody can beat him, though, it might be Zdenek Stybar. Styby, the Czech Champion, can be damn near untouchable at times, as he demonstrated with seven consecutive wins early this season. More recently, he took time off due to injury, and retreated from racing to focus on training. Without the fatigue of a full season, he may be poised to ride away with the win; but without recent races in his legs, he may lack a step. Recently, Kevin Pauwels has come into fine form, beating Albert in a two-up sprint in Pont-Chateau two weeks ago and coming in 2nd to Albert in Hoogerheide last weekend. He’s capable of winning races, but hasn’t shown the ability to dominate the other contenders. Expect a high placing from Pauwels, and though not out of the cards, a win would be fairly surprising.
Sven Nys knows how to win a race, but for much of this past month, has been chasing the leaders. It’s difficult to write him off entirely, but he’s lost a step compared to some of his rivals. Adding further depth to the Belgian contingent is Bart Wellens, a savvy veteran with two World Championships and three National Championships under his belt. He can pull out a brilliant ride when you least expect, as evident by his 2nd place in this year’s Belgian National Championships.
Shots at the podium:
Francis Mourey is tenacious in a fast race. I waver between faith and disappointment in Mourey, but think that in a fast, close race, he can stay near the front and eek out a good result. Belgian Tom Meeusen‘s career is off to a good start – he’s got two big wins this season. Klaas Vantornout has had a grip of top-ten rides of late and is a threat to ride onto the low step of the podium.
Best of the rest: Challenging Mourey for the highest-placed Frenchman will be Steve Chainel. Dutchman Gerben de Knegt and German Philipp Walsleben are likely to aim for top-ten rides. USA’s best shot looks to be Tim Johnson, who has had a few respectable placings in his European campaign this past month.
American Katie Compton is looking to win her first World Championship. She’s no stranger to winning, having won seven consecutive National Championships, and with five World Cup wins under her belt this season. Last year, leg cramps spoiled her attempt to finally pull on the rainbow stripes. The two woman who could give her a solid run for her money are Hanka Kupfernagel, who has won seven consecutive medals at Worlds, and Marianne Vos. Vos, the defending World Champion is only 23 years old and might be the baddest ass bike racer on the planet, who can boast World Championships in cyclocross, road, and on the track, along with an Olympic gold medal – to say nothing of a handful of Fleche-Wallone wins, and podiums at the Ronde.
- Elite men: Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Zdenek Stybar, Francis Mourey, Philip Walsleben.
- Elite women: Hanka Kupfernagel, Katie Compton, Marianne Vos
Erik says: “I always choose Nys, and I’m always wrong. Stybar has put it all on worlds this year, but with all the distractions, I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses the podium.”
- Elite men: Niels Albert, Zdenek Stybar, Kevin Pauwels, Sven Nys, Bart Wellens.
- Elite Women: Katie Compton, Marianne Vos, Hanka Kupfernagel
Jeff says: “Erik, I’ll give you a dollar if Mourey beats Steve Chainel.”
- Elite men: Zdenek Stybar, Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels, Sven Nys, Bart Wellens
- Elite women: Katie Compton, Marianne Vos, Hanka Kupfernagel, Helen Wyman
Ciaran says: “Nys didn’t impress me at all, and I think Wellens has a good hand of cards but is playing them very close to his chest.”
- Elite men: Zdenek Stybar, Niels Albert, Philip Walsleben
Whit says: “Stybar does well in the cold and should be in super form. Walsleben will benefit from the Belgians effectively blocking each other off the podium.”
- Elite men: Kevin Pauwels, Niels Albert, Zdenek Stybar, Sven Nys, Francis Mourey
- Elite women: Katie Compton, Marianne Vos, Hanka Kupfernagel.
Mattio says: “If the course is fast, I see a reply of Pont-Chateau, with Pauwels taking Albert to the line. And I’m reviving my hope in Francis Mourey!”