The European season finally kicks into high gear this weekend with six UCI races, including a UCI C1 race on Sunday. All the big European stars will be in action this weekend in Belgium including Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert. Several riders who made the trip to Vegas will return home to battle it out with Belgiumâ€™s best. Keep an eye on Lars van der Haar as he makes his official debut in the European elite ranks this weekend as well.
The Toi Toi Cup continues with a stop in Unicov while the Slovakian Cup kicks off this weekend with a pair of UCI C2 races in Udica-Prostne. This, in itself is proof of the growth of the sport. Last year, Slovakia only had one UCI race outside of their national championships. The first three rounds of their national series are all C2 races.
Needless to say, its an action-packed weekend on the other side of the pond. Without further ado, hereâ€™s this weekâ€™s predictions:
Toi Toi Cup – Round 2 (C2)
Radomir Simunek – Simunek rode very well at the first round of the Toi Toi Cup, narrowly beating out Martin Bina in a two-up sprint finish. Simunek will head to Belgium for the weekend, but should pick up a victory in Unicov on Friday.
Martin Bina – Bina pushed Simunek to the limit in Lostice and could very well do the same in this race. I still think Simunek is a bit stronger, but Bina could easily take home his first victory of the season.
Petr Dlask – Dlask finished fifth in Lostice, roughly 25 seconds off the podium. Despite being one of the oldest riders in the peloton, Dlask remains one of the Czechâ€™s best. I think heâ€™ll finish on the podium on Friday.
International Cyclocross MarikovskÃ¡ Dolina & International Cyclocross Financnecentrum (C2)
Rounds 1 & 2 of the Slovak Cup
Robert Gavenda – the Slovakian champion will have a lot on his shoulders as he tries to defend his home turf in what will most likely be a Czech/Slovakian field. While the Czech Republic’s top riders are headed to belgium, Gavenda will have his hands full with some very strong and experienced Czech talent. I think that heâ€™ll take the top step of the podium one of the two days.
Martin Bina – honestly, I could see Bina winning both days as well. He looked strong at the first round of the Toi Toi Cup where finished second to Radomir Simunek. Look for Bina to split victories with Gavenda.
Petr Dlask – despite being 37-years-old, Dlask still remains one of the Czech Republic’s top riders. He could very easily win both days, but I think Bina and Gavenda have a better shot at victory. Look for Dlask to remain competitive and potentially out fox the youngsters.
Fidea GP Neerpelt (C2)
Note: while this is listed on the UCI site as the Fidea GP Neerpelt, the five-race series is now sponsored by Soudal.
Sven Nys – after putting my faith in Nys in Baden, where he ultimately finished 11th, Iâ€™m still on the bandwagon. Nys won this race last year, in fact he won all the rounds of the Fidea series (now called the Soudal Classics). In addition, Nys has a had a week to rest and truly prepare for the cross season. Those three factors make me believe that he will return to the top step of the podium.
Kevin Pauwels – Pauwels was arguably the best rider in the World last year and one of the few riders who could push Nys, Niels Albert and Zdenk Stybar to their limit. I have high hopes for the young Belgian, but I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll beat Nys. It should be a very close race, especially since Pauwels will have a bevy of teammates. In the end though, the more experienced cross racer (Nys) should prevail.
Niels Albert – Francis Mourey, Tom Meeusen, Klaas Vantornout, Rob Peeters, Bart Wellens; the list of riders Albert will have to beat for a podium spot seems endless. The Wolrd Champion should do well on the technical course, but Iâ€™m not sure he can better the veteran Nys. If he does, it would be no real surprise, but the young Belgian will have his work cut out for him.
Vlaamse Industrieprijs Bosduin (C1)
Kevin Pauwels – if we stick with my predictions, Pauwels will finish as the runner-up on Saturday. This race, in his hometown, will be his chance to grace the top step of the podium for the first time this season and get some revenge on his rivals. The crowd in Kalmthout, Belgium will be exactly what he needs to secure victory.
Niels Albert – if this race wasnâ€™t in Pauwels hometown, Iâ€™d give the victory to the man wearing the rainbow stripes. A pair of podiums should mark the start of a very good season for Albert.
Francis Mourey – Mourey tends to struggle outside of France, but is clearly out to prove that that statement is no longer true. After a victory in Baden, Mourey is looking very strong. He could make a bid for victory, but will have to settle for being the only non-Belgian to podium in Belgium this weekend.
Radcross Illnau (C2)
Lukas Fluckiger – the Swiss mountain biker is on a roll right now. After doing exceptionally well at MTB Worldâ€™s Fluckiger picked up a podium spot in Baden before heading to the US. Stateside, he put in a solid, all be it week-long, campaign that culminated with a win last weekend at the second round of the USGP. Put it all together, and heâ€™s my odds on favorite to win.
Enrico Franzoi – after finishing third in his first race of the season (Supercross Baden), Franzoi continues his mini Swiss campaign on Sunday. Franzoi should remain in the thick of things, but will ultimately have to settle for second behind a flying Fluckiger. Should Fluckiger suffer a mechanical or bobble, Franzoi could capitalize and make a bid for victory.
Simon Zahner – completing the Swiss sandwich should be the 30-year-old Zahner. He finished fifth in Baden and looks to be steadily improving. Despite the C1 race in Belgium, a lot of foreign riders are heading to Illnau to grab some valuable UCI points. Zahner will have his hands full, but should land on the podium.
One last note, the Toi Toi Cup and the two Slovakian races did not have start lists, or at least none that I can find. This is my mini disclaimer to say if none of those riders show, itâ€™s not my fault.