Welcome to Pavé’s midweek cyclocross coverage, where we take a look at the state of International Cyclocross competition and give a run-down of who we see as the top ten competitors. With the season yet to really launch into full swing, there are few full-field races to use as data points. Expect that to change soon with this weekend’s Superprestige race – stay tuned for a full weekend preview tomorrow. Until then, here are your top ten:
1. Zdenek Stybar – Absense makes the Stybar grow stronger. Even after recusing himself from racing in Kalmthout – this season’s major pre-season gathering of European talent – due to a bruised knee, the threat of Stybar’s dominance looms just as large as it ever has.
2. Neils Albert – in Stybar’s absense at Kalmthout, it was Albert who soloed away from a packed from group of major talent to win ten or fifteen seconds ahead of any chasers. The youngster has a bit to proove following Roger de Vlaeminck’s criticism, and in an appreciable form, he let his legs do the talking.
3. Sven Nys – despite a mere 6th at Kalmthout, Nys takes a top spot on the Power Rankings. He fell behind due to a tangle with his young rival Kevin Pauwels, who clipped a tree and went down in front of Nys. Without that interruption, Albert’s victory would have been far less certain – with Nys and Pauwels chasing, no solo victory is clear.
4. Bart Wellens returned to Europe after a successful North American Campaign, and showed what he can do in Kalmthout. After riding around he Nys/Pauwels tangle he set off in pursuit of Albert. He was closing the gap but ran out of course and had to settle for second. Strong and solid, and likely the first of many podiums. The question remains if he has what it takes to beat the Stybar/Albert/Nys contingent, but the season is long.
5. Francis Mourey – Mourey picked up fourth place for his efforts after animated Kalmthout repeatedly. In the past he’s been a mercurial racer, sometimes struggling, and other times, riding impressive podium performances. His American Campaign last season didn’t get him what he needed to reel in a major European win. Will he put the pieces together this season?
6. Kevin Pauwels – despite a strong race, Pauwels drops in the Power Rankings due to one mistake while chasing Neils Albert’s major move. Cyclocross is unforgiving, a discipline of perfection. A bobble can cost you the race.
7. Tom Meeusen - Meeusen is one of Belgium’s scrappy young bright spots, who grabbed several victories last year over big-name rivals. He fought his way onto the podium at Kalmthout – certainly a nice sign from him, but some consistency would be even better.
8. Bart Aernouts – Aernouts spent time with the front group this weekend. Another top-ten performance, after his fifth place at GP Neerpelt, is a nice start to his season after taking a trip to North America.
9. Dieter Vanthourenhout – Dieter showed that he’s the better Vanthourenhout with a top-ten ride at Kalmthout that his cousin Sven couldn’t match.
10. Klaas Vantornout – despite a poor performance at Kalmthout I have confidence that Vantornout’s preparing for a solid season. He’s had some pressure to be Belgium’s next big cross thing, but it hasn’t worked out. He’s still waiting to match his impressive victory tally from 2007/2008; maybe his new Sunweb-Revor teammate Kevin Pauwels will ease the pressure and give Vantornout a bit more leash to play with.