Often considered the pre-World Championships, especially after last year when Belgium swept to top seven spots at World’s, the Belgian National Championships return to Mol. The course is a challenging one and because it is wrapped around a lake, it features plenty of sand. Niels Albert comes in has the heavy favorite, while defending champion Sven Nys announced he will be on the start line on Sunday. All of Belgium’s top names will do battle this weekend, including Bart Wellens who is the only rider besides Nys and Albert to win the national title in over a decade.
Stateside, nationals return to Madison, WI where cold temperatures and a mix of snow and ice have blanketed the course over the past few weeks. The circuit is similar to last year’s, but the ultimate factor will be the temperature. It is predicted to stay very cold, meaning the course should be frozen and rutted. However, if temperatures rise, it could turn into a muddy mess. Defending champion Jeremy Powers seems poised to repeat as champion, but the usual crew of riders, including Tim Johnson, Ryan Trebon and Jonathan Page will be there to stop him.
Here’s how I think things will shake out:
Belgian National Championships (CN)
Niels Albert – in my opinion only Kevin Pauwels could stop Albert’s bid for a second national title. In the end though, I see this as a classic race where Albert attacks and no one chases him down until it’s too late. Pauwels has a shot to stick with him, but for some reason I just don’t think he can pull it off.
Kevin Pauwels – despite giving Albert the edge, Pauwels could win on Sunday. His form is starting to come around and, as we saw in Namur and Rome, he’s capable of winning when it counts. While I think he would make a nice champion, I just don’t see it happening.
Sven Nys – despite having “refreshed legs,” I don’t expect any miracles out of Nys. I’m still convinced this season is all about Louisville for Nys, despite what he says. Could Nys shock us all in Mol? Absolutely. Would I be surprised? No. Do I think he will? Probably not.
US National Championships (CN)
Ryan Trebon – Trebon has kept his head down and his mind focused on Madison and Louisville. While the rest of his competition has been criss-crossing the Atlantic, Trebon has been in California training. In my opinion he comes into this race as a big wildcard. Unlike most years, I’m going for the wildcard.
Jeremy Powers – while Powers has dominated this season in the US, I think his luck runs out at Madison. I have this race playing out in my mind where Powers hits the gas early and one or two riders chase him down. Trebon has played this card before as well. If Powers can hold it, I could see him winning again, but I don’t think he will.
Jonathan Page – Page is on a roll lately and has reminded us that he’s still racing at a high level. While I don’t expect a fourth title for him, I do expect another podium appearance. Afterall, he hasn’t missed the podium in over a decade.