This weekend there are two UCI races in Europe, the 20th Cyclocross de Karrantza (in Basque country) and round two of the World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic. Both races are on Sunday, which means Karrantza could see an invasion of younger Belgian riders looking for easy UCI points. With no start list available, I will use this opportunity as a disclaimer for my predictions for that race. Round two of the World Cup takes place in Plzen, the home of the pilsner style of beer. The race should be a fast, tactical affair and once again, it should be a battle of Belgiumâ€™s best. Hereâ€™s how I think things will shake out:
XX Cyclo-cross de Karrantza (C2)
Javier Ibanez – Ibanez finished second in Karrantza last year, which is good enough for me (last yearâ€™s winner is will be in Plzen). More importantly, he was a podium contender in all the Spanish races last season, hopefully this time he can land on the top step.
Oscar Crespo – Crespo only races in Spain and finished inside the top ten in all six UCI races he did last season. Look for him to land on the podium, just not the top spot.
Aitor Gutierrez – Gutierrez only finished outside the top five once last season in Spanish races. However, he only landed on the podium twice last year. I think heâ€™ll be on the podium on Sunday.
UCI World Cup – Round 2 (CDM)
Sven Nys – the fact that Nys won here last year, with a very impressive last corner move, actually has no bearing on my decision to pick him on Sunday. Last weekend in Tabor Nys snapped a chain and had to run/roll to the pit. When he arrived he was around 30th and about 40 seconds behind the leaders. Nys almost casually rode his way up to the chase group and then took off for a solid fifth place finish. Barring another incident, look for him to repeat in Plzen.
Kevin Pauwels – Pauwels looked to be in complete command last week en route to a victory in Tabor. Clearly things would have been different if Nys hadnâ€™t had a mechanical, but you cannot discount his solo victory. With mild temperatures this week in Plzen, I expect a fast technical race, which should favor the likes of Nys and Albert. Look for Pauwels to podium and remain in the leaders jersey.
Niels Albert – last week in Tabor Albert overcame a poor start and battled his way to onto the podium. However, nothing compares to the poor start he had in Plzen last year. A Czech TV crew was literally standing in front of Albert when the proverbial gun went off, costing him a shot at victory. Look for Albert the challenge Nys and Pauwels all the way to the end, but I do not expect him to win.
What to watch for:
Lars van der Haar looked like a maniac last week in Tabor. The young dutchman took every opportunity to make sure the Belgian brigade (they took 5 out of the top 6 places in Tabor) knew he was there and meant business. Team tactics cost him a shot at victory, but more importantly a nasty crash this week in Woerden may set him back a few weeks if his hand doesnâ€™t heal quickly.
Jeremy Powers one upped Jonathan Page last weekend, finishing seventh in Tabor, the highest ever finish for an American at a World Cup. Page finished eighth twice in the 2009/10 season at Iggore and Hoogerheide. Powers will start second row this week and could conceivably crack the top five with another stellar ride.
Radomir Simunek rode phenomenal for the the first 55 minutes of the race in Tabor. Too bad the race was an hour long. With the â€œretirementâ€ of Zdenek Stybar, Simunek is the Czech Republic’s best rider. If he can put together a complete hour on Sunday, he could find himself in the top five.