Netherlands (2,403 pts.)
Last year, Gerben de Knegt was on the best form in years and looked to be a lock for a national title. Unfortunately a minor misstep opened the door for Lars Boom to capture another title. Both men will be on the start line this weekend in Huikbergen. Despite his lack of success, Boom has to be considered a threat as does de Knegt, who has recently shown signs of the form he had last year. Eddy van Ijzendoorn and Thijs van Amerongen battled it out for third last year and could be in the exact same position this weekend. Van Amerongen has put together a string of solid top-twenty results at the World Cup and Superprestige races this season and could be in the hunt for victory if de Knegt and Boom falter.
Czech Republic (2,929 pts.)
The race this weekend in Unicov, will provide fans with something almost never seen as two World Champions toe the start line. MTB World Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, who has raced a few cross races this season, will line up next to current Cross World Champion Zdenk Stybar. Stybar is the odds on favorite in Unicov as he attempts to capture his fifth-straight national title. Stybar has been a bit wishy-washy about his future in cross, but one thing is for sure, he’s racing this weekend to win.
Standing in Stybar’s way will be Peter Dlask, a five time national champion himself, and Radomir Simunek. Simunek stated that he’s in top form and looking for that elusive top-step of the podium. While the battle should come down to Simunek and Stybar, Dlask has a had a solid season racing primarily in the Czech Republic and could surprise in Unicov.
As if the drama of a national title wasn’t enough, this race will also decide the winner of the Toi Toi Cup. Germany’s Christoph Pfingsten leads the series, but obviously will not be racing in Unicov, meaning that the battle will come down to Dlask, David Kasek and Vladimir Kyzivat. Kasek trail Dlask by seven points, while Kyzivat is only eight points back. Whichever one of these men crosses the line first will most likely win the Toi Toi Cup.
France (2,972 pts.)
Up until last weekend, there was no question of who was going to win this weekend in Quelneuc. Defending champion Francis Mourey has been unstoppable on French soil and is often the top Frechmen in international races. However, Jon Gadret was able to do the unthinkable and beat Mourey at the GP Hotel Threeland in Luxembourg. While it may have been a one time thing, Gadret’s victory has set the stage for a very exciting race this weekend.
The battle for the podium should be a five-man affair. In addition to Mourey and Gadret, Matthieu Boulo, Steve Chainel and Nicolas Bazin. Boulo won the U23 national title last year and has finished on the podium in several elite races this year. Chainel, who is perhaps the best example of a rider who can succeed in both cross and road, is always in the hunt and could pull off an upset in Quelneuc. Finally, there’s Bazin, who started his season in the US and has continued with a solid European campaign.