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January 31, 2013
While summer is still sizzling here in Australia the biggest weekend of racing in the Northern Hemisphere is about to get underway. The UCI World Cyclocross Championships are being hosted in Louisville, Kentucky and our Aussie CX nut Paul Aubrey gives us a preview of the favorites, the course, and viewing options. Local CX star Lewis Rattray will be racing, so look out for him and watch this space for his report next week.
This weekend Louisville, Kentucky will host the Cyclocross World Championship. For the first time the race for the rainbow stripes will be held outside Europe. The venue is significant as it’s acknowledging the growth of cyclocross around the world and forces the Euro’s to travel.
The Course – There is no better way to check out the course features than the episode of Behind the Barriers from the US GP – Derby City Cup in early November. The men’s racing saw Jeremy Powers win both days, the same can be said for Katie Compton.
The consensus among the riders is that the course will be fast if it remains dry. The key features of the course are a sand pit, flyover, stairs and a section called “What Ever it Takes”. This section is best described as a rideable run-up, and as seen in Behind the Barriers both Powers and Craig were able to ride it. Marco Aurelio Fontana, the Italian dark horse for a podium will be one to watch on What Ever it Takes.
The official website has put together a little feature on the course Louisville website, that is worth checking out.
According to twitter updates this morning, the rain bucketed down overnight on the course. The current forecast is suggesting temperature above freezing on Sunday for the elite races and the chance of snow on Saturday for the juniors and U23. There will be mud; the question is how much. Last week the organisers were pumping out puddles on the lower sections of the course following the snow melt. This week rain has been falling but as is not open for practice until Thursday, the course has at least a chance of drying out.
THE FRONT ROW
One defining feature of cyclocross is the importance of grid positioning. The front row of the grid is determined by your UCI ranking and the standard grid features eight lanes. The women’s grid has a greater spread of nations; a notable absence is Nikki Harris of Great Britain who is unable to start due to a knee injury. The strength of the Belgian team in the men’s is evident as they occupy six front row positions with Bart Wellens the only one further back.
When it comes to riders getting the hole shot, look out for Lars Van Der Haar and Lucie Chainel-Lefevre. You never know, in true American style there could be some cash up for grabs as well.
Women’s Front Row
Men’s Front Row
The Women’s Favorites
The women’s race will be a fantastic duel between two of cyclocross’ best, Marianne Vos and Katie Compton.
Marianne Vos winning the UCI World Cup Round 8 in Hoogerheide (2013).
Katie Compton will have the home ground advantage in her bid to topple the world’s most versatile cyclist; Marianne Vos. When comparing their head-to-head world cup performances this season, Vos has two wins to Compton’s one. Compton will go into the worlds knowing what it takes to beat Vos after taking victory at the muddy Namur world cup. Compton has had a fantastic season, she won the overall world cup, US GP Series, national championship and is the number one ranked rider. All she needs to cap off a perfect season is a world championship victory.
Katie Comptom (US) winner of the UCI CX World Cup Round 4 in Roubaix on December 2nd, 2012.
The race for the bronze medal is a little more open. Katerina Nash and Sanne Van Passen have shown they have late season form. Another rider to watch out for is the Italian mountain biker Eva Lechner, who placed fourth at the snowy Hoogerheide world cup recently.
The Men’s Favorites
If a Belgian does not win the battle for the rainbow jersey, the outcome from Sunday’s race will be considered an upset. Three Belgian riders, Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys, have dominated this season – the gold medal is theirs for the taking. Between them they have won 7 of the 8 world cups races. I can’t pick an outright favorite, but if I where a gambling man I would put an each way trifecta of the trio of Albert, Pauwels and Nys. Beyond the favorites for gold, we look at other riders in contention for medals and the chances of the local riders.
Niels Albert (Bel) – Albert goes into the world championships this year as the defending champion and world number one ranked rider. This year Pauwels and Nys have managed to take six of the eight world cup victories but Albert has stood on the podium seven times with one win, making him the most consistent.
Niels Albert (BE) diving in the mud abyss, UCI World Cup Zolder 2012.
Of all the Belgian riders, Albert has given himself the longest to get over the jet lag. Last weekend he took victory in the Cincinnati Kings International. Time will tell if it will work in his favor.
Albert has had a good season and was rewarded with the overall world cup victory. I just hope his bad luck is behind him after a puncture in the Namur world cup saw Nys pass him within sight of the finish line.
Kevin Pauwels (Bel)– Form can be hard to find in cycling. Pauwels started his season brilliantly with a solo victory at the Tabor world cup. It was less than a month later that his team manager was critical of his subsequent lack of wins. Some big crashes didn’t help his cause. However, later in the season Pauwels demonstrated his versatility taking victory in the mud of Namur and on the flat and fast course in Rome.
In the Rome world cup, Pauwels chased down and passed his own teammate, Klaas Vantornout, to take victory. A week later the Sunweb-Napoleon Games rider Vantornout took victory in the national championships. They may be racing as a national team but having an ally as strong as Vantornout can’t be a bad thing.
Kevin Pauwels post-race, UCI World Cup Hoogerheide 2013.
Interestingly in Shimano preview for the worlds, Pauwels appeared nervous in regards to travelling and racing in the states. Belgian ‘cross racers are use to sleeping in there own beds before events, so a long flight and jet lag is a massive change.
Having previously won the junior and Under 23 championships, there is no doubt that 2013 could be the year that Pauwels completes his rainbow collection.
Sven Nys (Bel) – After 15 years at the top of cyclocross it is surprising that Nys has only one elite world championship to his name. That being said as his careers draws to a close, Nys is showing no signs of slowing down. His mountain bike campaign during leading up to the London Olympics has given him the edge over his competitors during the closing stages of races. He has used this to great advantage to take dominant victories at the Koksijde, Roubaix and Zolder world cups. His victory at Koksijde was a display of patience, skill and physical superiority. The shake of Niels Albert head when he realizes he has been caught summed up the race beautifully.
As a seasoned traveller Nys will know what is required for his body to recover from travel. Recovery would have been on the top of Nys’ list after he suffered from illness early in January and finished well off the pace at the Rome world cup.
There should be no concerns that Nys’ form has suffered from his illness. Like all the favorites for the world championships, Nys rode conservatively at the recent Hoogerheide world cup. This was to lessen the chance of injury in the icy conditions. There were moments where he rode at full gas and demonstrated why he is a force to be reckoned with. Come Sunday, Nys will be racing to wear the rainbow stripes for his last season.
LIKELY PODIUM GETTERS
Klaas Vantornout (Bel) – Vantornout biggest career victory would have to be taking the Belgian national championship this year. He may have had more results if he was able to avoid the mechanicals and crashes that cost him dearly. On a fast dry course the power Vantornout can unleash could see him step onto the podium. As a teammate of Pauwels he has a second card up his sleeve.
Lars Van Der Haar (Ned) – The little Dutchman, Lars Van Der Haar is the rider in the best position to stop a Belgian clean sweep. Van Der Haar has won the past 2 U23 world championships and has just spent his first season racing in the elite ranks. Van Der Haar is an explosive rider, his high cadence and head-nodding sprint make him easy to pick out. He is always riding on the limit, which has seen him stand on two world cup podiums this season as well as crash on a number of occasions. Unlike some of the Belgians, a number of previous visits to Cross Vegas will also work in Van Der Haar’s favor.
Marco Aurelio Fontana (Ita) – The Italian national champion and Olympic mountain bike bronze medalist is one of my favorite riders to watch. The skills that Fontana displays are impressive. Fontana will bunny-hop barriers and ride where another people run. Much like Nys, his mountain bike fitness comes into play in the second half of the race when other riders start to fade. Don’t consider Fontana a stranger to cyclocross, he placed seventh at the 2011 world championships in a race where he suffered two punctures.
LOCAL US RIDERS
Jonathan Page is the American rider with the best chance of a top ten result. Page stood of the world championship podium in 2007 when he finished second behind Belgian legend Erwin Vervecken. There is no doubt of his form after he blitzed the field at the recent national championships. Having spent the last few years of his career in Belgium, Page will be praying for mud and lots of it.
Post-race portrait of Jonathan Page, Superprestige Diegem 2012
Jeremy Powers, the focus of Behind the Barriers has had a mixed season. Powers won five of the six US GP races he contested and rode brilliantly at the Tabor world cup to finish seventh. His second trip to Europe started well when he was riding in second wheel early in the first lap of the Namur world cup. Unfortunately for Powers, once they hit the first run up he went backwards through the field and his season started to go downhill from there. I sincerely hope Powers can rediscover his mojo and post a great result on his home turf.
TUNE IN – LIVE STREAMING
Now you’ve read the definitive preview, all you need to do is tune in bright and early on Monday morning. The races will be streamed life via the UCI YouTube Channel.
Elite Women: 3:00am EDST
Elite Men 6:30 am EDST