On Sunday afternoon in Sankt-Wendel, Germany, Zdenek Stybar successfully defended his position as Cyclocross World Champion with a commanding win.
Faced with a strong Belgian team, Stybar went to the front early and stayed there, whittling away the ranks of his rivals until only Sven Nys remained. And then, he distanced Nys, too.
It was the type of fabulous display that very nearly makes for a boring race. Fortunately, though the front of the race changed little throughout its hour-long duration, there was plenty of action and intrigue behind. Jeremy Powers was just a few wheels behind Stybar into the holeshot – he can always be counted on for a strong start domestically or internationally, and it’s nice to see Americans represented near the front at the WC race.
The wide, fast course seemed tailor made for tight groups, and these took their toll, with crashes starting early and not letting up riders began spacing themselves out along the course.
On the second lap, the cameras caught favorite Niels Albert running up the stairs well behind the leaders – he apparently suffered an early puncture that dashed his World Championship aims quite early. Meanwhile, a group of nine or ten riders coalesced at the front, including American Jonathan Page, who as the first American man to medal at the World Championships with a silver back in 2007, clearly has the ability for high-level rides.
Stybar, surrounded by a forest of Belgian jerseys from the get-go, finally pulled out an advantage with Nys. Behind them, an elite chase group formed, containing a handful of surprise guests, including German Philip Walsleben (perhaps riding on the strength of some home-field advantage) and Italian Marco Fontana (whose slick dismount here won him style points – unlike the fur coat that was apparently his choice of post-race clothing) joined Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantournout after Page dropped from the group due to a mechanical on the third lap (given Page’s ability to hit above his weight in big races, it would have been nice to see him continue in that chase group).
In the end, Pauwels and Vantournout would conspire to ensure another Belgian on the podium – late in the race, Vantournout eased on the final climb, allowing Pauwels to spring away from the group and take third place.
Francis Mourey had an interesting race, falling off the pace of the chase group but pulling off a tremendous surge late in the race to catch the group and then distance Walsleben and Vantournout, unable to catch Pauwels but finishing a well-deserved fourth.
Shortly before this year’s WC race, Stybar announced that he is signing with Quick Step after his two consecutive World Championships with Telenet-Fidea. It is no doubt a satisfactory way end to his time with Telenet-Fidea as he begins a transition to more focused road racing.
The Elite Men’s race capped off a terrific weekend of World Championship racing that also saw a showdown between Marianne Vos and American Katie Compton in the Elite Women’s race. Vos – an absolute star with National and World Championships on the road, track, and cyclocross – distanced Compton with a few laps to go to, putting an end to Compton’s otherwise undefeated season of international racing, and her hopes of finally winning the WC stripes that her dominant career so deserves. Meanwhile, Czech Katerina Nash claimed the bronze medal after a successful season racing in the United States. In the U23 race, Pavé correspondent Valentin Scherz finished 7th, an impressive result for the 20-year-old. Stay tuned for an exclusive report on the World Championship race from Valentin.
I claim victory for myself and Erik in the unofficial Pavé bragging rights prediction contest. Though Whit and Ciaran were correct in picking Stybar to win, Erik and I picked 4/5ths of the podium composition (though not in the correct order; a minor discrepancy). And it must be publicly noted that Jeff owes Erik a dollar for Mourey beating Steve Chainel.