International Cyclocross Weekend Preview: Plzen World Cup

Photo courtesy of Tim Van Wichelen

All eyes will focus on Plzen in the Czech Republic for round one of the cyclocross World Cup. The top European riders will descend on the home of Pilsner style beer. Meanwhile, a large contingent of US riders will make the trip across the pond to race against the world’s best and grab some highly coveted UCI points.

Defending World Cup champion Niels Albert will be looking to continue his string of success and start of the World Cup season with a bang. The home crowd will beer cheering for World Champion Zdenek Stybar who will bear the weight of his home country and is their best hopes for a podium position.

The real battle should come from the cross crazy nation of Belgium, as they bring a stacked field to Plzen. Last year, Kevin Pauwels rode extremely well, finishing just behind Stybar. However, Pauwels finished outside the top-ten last weekend in Ruddervoorde. Should he be able to get back on track, he could put a lot of pressure on Albert. Bart Aernouts will have a lot of pressure on his sholders to backup his runner-up performance last weekend in Ruddervoorde.

Cross veterans Sven Nys and Bart Wellens seem capable of win right now and either man would love to pick up a World Cup victory. Nys seems to be struggling from the bad luck that marred his season last year. Meanwhile, Wellens is looking to pick up a European victory after dominating the US competition in September. With the palmares that these two riders bring to the table, either one could pick up the victory over their younger counterparts.

The United States brings one of its strongest fields ever to Plzen. In the past, Jonathan Page was the lone American at the early rounds of the World Cup. However, with valuable UCI points on the line, and the 2013 Worlds in Louisville looming, Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson and Jamey Driscoll are slated to join Page. Powers looks to be the top American and should be able to finish inside the top-15. The real question for the Americans is how will Johnson do. Johnson hasn’t shown great form yet and this race will be a big litmus test for him.

While the Belgians appear too strong to beat right now, there are a few riders who could surprise the cross contingent in Plzen. The Czech’s own Martin Zlamalik has rides extremely well on home soil and a top-ten is not out of the question. Francis Mourey had the most impressive streak of fourth place finishes ever seen last year, including his podium near-miss at the World Championships. Clearly, the French National Champion is capable of riding with the best, but the question is can he beat them? Finally, watch out for German National Champ Philipp Walsleben. He stormed onto the scene last year and could really break through this year.

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