Sven Nys is once again the heavy favorite for Sunday’s race on a challenging course in Hooglede-Gits. Nys has been at the front of all but a handful of races this season and has dominated the past few weeks. Nys has taken the title home seven times in the past 11 years, but failed to finish last year in Antwerp. Should Nys take home an eighth title, he’ll be two away from tying the record set by Roland Liboton, who won ten straight in the 1980s. Nys ended last weekend with a bang and looks to continue that success on Sunday.
Defending champion Niels Albert will surely have something to say on Sunday. After being hit by a car and breaking his wrist, Albert was forced to take some time off from a solid start to the season. Since his return, he’s been in the mix at every race and often found himself on the podium. Albert has somewhat played second fiddle to the Kevin Pauwels/Sven Nys battle and would love to prove that he’s the man to beat. Albert has had a lot of success recently by simply riding away from everyone else. Should Albert find himself off the front, he may never come back.
Kevin Pauwels’ season started off unbelievably as he seemingly won everything in sight. As a result, he finds himself leading the UCI Points, World Cup and GVA Trophy. He also sits just one point behind Nys in the Superprestige series. Pauwels has shown that’s he’s human lately and has struggled to find the form that saw him rattle off one victory after another earlier on. Minus his win in Zolder a few weeks back, it’s been over a month since Pauwels has seen the top step of the podium. If Pauwels can pull off the win on Sunday, he’ll prove that the first half of his season wasn’t a fluke – if he’s to dominate ‘cross he’ll need to show resilience all season long.
Behind Nys, Albert and Pauwels is a bevy of top notch Belgian talent itching to prove that they belong in the conversation. Bart Wellens has shown remarkable form lately and could prove to be the spoiler in Hooglede-Gits. Wellens was the runner up last year and would love to capture his third title. Klass Vantornout has been knocking on the door for quite some time. Ever the consummate teammate, it wouldn’t be surprising if he tries to help out Pauwels. On the other hand, if he has a shot for victory, he’ll definitely go for it.
A few other riders could find themselves in the mix on Sunday. Tom Meeusen has had a solid season, but has been battling the flu and probably won’t be on top form. Rob Peeters has shown some signs of good form lately and could mix it up with the big boys. Joeri Adams, the U23 champion last year, has had a quite season, but could put in a solid performance in an effort to make the worlds squad. Finally, Bart Aernouts always seems to strike when nobody is thinking about him. If anyone pulls off the upset, it could be him.