Unlike the US, which has spent the past few weekends racing at one venue, the European cross season is in full swing with UCI races across the continent. The action kicks off on Saturday with the fourth round of the Toi Toi Cup, where Martin Bina will put his winning streak on the line. Both France and England will start their national series on Sunday. Meanwhile, the GVA Trofee (now Bpost Bank Trofee) kicks off in Ronse, Belgium. Finally, in Finland, the first national championships of the season will be held as they crown their 2012 champion. Here’s how I think things will turn out:
Toi Toi Cup – Round 4 (C2)
Martin Bina – Bina has won four straight races, including the the past two Toi Toi Cup rounds. Bina heads to Hlinsko as the heavy favorite and I don’t see anyone who can stop him. Last year’s winner, Christoph Pfingsten, was scheduled to return to Hlinsko, but had to pull out due to illness.
Michael Boros – the 21-year-old Czech rider broke through last weekend with a win in Podbrezova, Slovokia. Boros could win on Saturday, but I still think Bina has a step up on him. Look for that to change soon as the young rider begins to close the gap to the veteran Bina.
Tomas Paprstka – like Boros, Paprstka is a young Czech rider on the rise. Despite not being on the podium much this season, he seems destined for a breakthrough. Look for him to land on the podium on Saturday.
National Trophy Series – Round 1 (C2)
Ian Field – after a stint in the US, the British National Champion returns home to contest the first round of their national series in Abergavenny. Field hasn’t contested the early rounds of the National Trophy Series in a few years, but is the clear favorite for victory.
Ian Bibby – a former National Champion, Bibby should be a formidable opponent on Sunday. While I don’t expect him to win, he should land on the podium.
Paul Oldham – one of the two perennial series contenders, look for Oldham to get a jump on his “rival,” Jody Crawforth. With Bibby and Field in attendance, the depth of this weekend’s field is impressive. Oldham and Crawforth could both contend for victory, but I expect them to play a lesser role this weekend.
Bpost Bank Trofee - Ronse (C2)
Niels Albert – I went with him last week, even though I admitted I really wanted to go for Sven Nys. I’m sticking with that same logic again this weekend. Last year, Albert finished in third spot (behind Kevin Pauwels and Zdenek Stybar). Albert has looked good thus far and I expect him to land on the top-step of the podium in Ronse.
Sven Nys – the Nys and Albert show should continue this weekend as the Bpost Bank Trofee kicks off in Ronse. I just don’t think Nys’ winning streak can continue, but then again, I was wrong last weekend.
Kevin Pauwels – the winner in Ronse last year returns with some pressure on his shoulders. Pauwels has struggled a bit this season, but rode to a solid third place last weekend in Ruddervorrde. I expect the young Belgian to land on the podium again this weekend.
French National Cyclocross Challenge – Round 1 (C2)
Francis Mourey – Mourey has had a mixed start to the season, dominating early on, but struggling recently. No matter what, Mourey always seems to do well on home soil. I expect Mourey to take the victory in the first round of France’s national series.
Steve Chaniel – last time Mourey and Chaniel squared off in Saverne, Chaniel got the better of him. Neither rider has engaged in much trash talking, but clearly this will be a battle to watch. I give Mourey the edge, but Chaniel is definitely capable of picking up another victory in Saverne.
Nicolas Bazin – Bazin returned home this week after a dominating start to the season in the US. I honestly feel like he could win on Sunday, but for some reason I think Mourey is unstoppable. Bazin could give everyone a run for their money and could even pull off the upset if he can maintain the form we saw in September in the US.
Finnish National Championships (CN)
Kimmo Kananen – after winning the title in 2010, Kananen came across the line third last year, in a four man sprint. Look for the 33-year-old to get a little bit of revenge and recapture his crown Sunday in Helsinki.
Sam Tiainen – the young Finnish rider landed on the top step of the podium last year and would love to repeat. At 24, he’s one of the youngest riders in the field. Despite that, I just don’t think he has enough to beat Kananen.
Henri Ojala – last years runner-up, Ojala will have to settle for the podium again. However, as we saw last year, anything can happen and Ojala could easily take the victory if it comes down to another three or four man sprint.
Note: There’s no starting list for the Finnish National Championships. I also couldn’t find any sort of preview of the race. All the aforementioned riders didn’t race in any UCI race outside of their National Championships last year. If by some chance you read this and are Finnish or know someone who is, I’d be glad to talk to them and find out more about cross in Finland.