Another weekend has come and gone, so let’s take a look at International Cyclocross action from the past week:
Kermisscross (C2): The Belgian tradition of mid-week cyclocross races continued this past week with Kermisscross. World Champion Zdenek Stybar bested Sven Nys in a sprint to pick up the victory (pictured above). Dieter Vanthourenhout finished thrid. This race presumably gave Stybar some confidence ahead of the first round of the World Cup in his home country. More interestingly though, Sven Nys has never won Kermisscross, which is quite remarkable considering his lengthy dominance of the sport. There’s always next year, but how long can we say that for?
IX Cyclo-cross de Villarcayo (C2): As we predicted, the Spanish race was dominated by a pair of Belgians, who made the trip for the only UCI race in Europe aside from the World Cup. Our pick of Sven Beelen was bested by fellow Belgian Vincent Baestaens. Spanish National Champion Javier Ibanez rounded out the podium in third, just as we predicted.
World Cup Round #1 – Plzen
And now, the meat and potatoes of this past week of cyclocross races, the UCI World Cup Round #1, held in Plzen – the historical home of pilsner beer. The 2011-2012 World Cup kicked off with one of the most bizarre starts ever seen in cross. Niels Albert, Francis Mourey and Tim Johnson were among nearly a dozen riders who were unable to start the race from the gun due to photographers who were still in the starting grid when the race was started. It took nearly ten extra seconds for the riders to clip in and start riding. Let’s go to the videotape, and yes, that is video from one of the photographers who were still on the course when the gun went off. Notice Tim Johnson’s flawless execution of the Angry Euro Hand Wave behind Belgian Champion Neils Albert.
Once the dust settled, it was Sven Nys who came out on top after an extremely tactical last lap to best Kevin Pauwels and Zdenek Stybar. On the last lap, Stybar looked the most frantic, gritting his teeth and leading a blistering most of the lap; Pauwels looked the most eager, content with his sprint ability to keep things together; but Nys looked the most patient. At the very end, Nys made a very crafty move en route to victory. He clearly used his years of experience to outwit and out ride his younger counterparts; Pauwels used his superior sprint to best Stybar for second. The trio came across the line about 40 seconds a head of a large chase group lead by Francis Mourey – who, it should be noted, finished best of those whose start was delayed by the photographer (of the other notables delayed by that mishap, Albert finished eight and Johnson rolled across the line in 20th).
American Jonathan Page came across in 21st position, just behind Tim Johnson, but one of the biggest stories from the race (outside of the bizzare start, of course) was Jeremy Powers, who rode to an impressive 10th place finish in Plzen. In addition to taking the top two spots, Belgium took fifth through eighth with Vantornout, Meeusen, Aernouts and Albert. Fellow Belgian Bart Wellens finished 12th after suffering a mechanical during the race. Our other riders to watch didn’t fare so well. Cezh Martin Zlamalik finished 29th, Brit Ian Field finished 35th and German National Champion Philip Walsleben ended up not starting the race.
Because of Nys’ victory, Belgium will have a ninth rider in the World Cup race this upcoming weekend, meaning that Dieter Vanthorenhout should get a starting spot in Tabor – a country is allotted eight riders, not including the World Champion and the World Cup Leader. Dieter’s cousin Sven Vanthorenhout injured his elbow in an nasty pileup right after the crazy start, and dropped out after a few laps. His spot will be open as well – while we thought Rob Peeters would fill it, Vincent Baestaens has been confirmed as the ninth Belgian rider. Baestaens raced well last year as a U23 and as we mentioned, he just won IX Cyclo-cross de Villarcayo. And finally, though the UCI hasn’t published the official points standings yet, we eye Sven Nys as the number one rider, with Powers likely to be the top American.