Niels Albert suffering with pneumonia ahead of Belgian championship defence
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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Niels Albert suffering with pneumonia ahead of Belgian championship defence

by Ben Atkins at 8:50 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, National Championships
 
Not enough rest over Christmas period for BKCP-Powerplus rider has made infection worse; Sven Nys favourite to take back driekleur jersey

niels albertNiels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) has suffered yet another setback to his 2011/12 season, with the discovery that the cold he endured over the Christmas period has worsened. Since returning from the broken wrist he suffered in November when hit by a car in training, the Belgian champion has enjoyed mixed results, but a disappointing sixth place in the GP Sven Nys in Baal, Belgium, on New Year’s Day has caused him to seek medical advise once more.

“The previous illness has apparently not been cured, because on Monday the doctor found that I was still suffering with a viral infection,” the Belgian champion told Het Niewsblad. “It’s actually the beginnings of pneumonia, because I have mucus in my lungs, and the sinuses under my eyes are inflamed.”

After returning to racing in mid-December, Albert took two second places in two days at the Gazet van Antwerpen (GvA) Trofee race in Essen and the World Cup in Namur. These were followed the next week with a victory in the evening Superprestige race in Belgium on December 23rd, but he then slumped to eighth in the Heusden-Zolder World Cup on Boxing Day, just three days later.

Albert, like many riders, was suffering from a cold, but he appeared to have recovered quickly as he took his second victory of the month in the GvA Trofee race in Loenhout on December 28th; it was not to last though, and he could only manage fourth against a relatively small field in Bredene the following day, before his disappointing performance in Baal.

“It’s probably a result of not taking enough rest over the Christmas period,” Albert explained. “It might have been better if I’d drawn a line after Loenhout and not ridden in Baal, but that would have been tough for my supporters.”

For Albert, the illness could hardly have come at a worse time, as he is to defend his black, yellow and red driekleur jersey at the Belgian championships in Hooglede-Gits this coming Sunday.

“I’ll be taking some much-needed rest this week,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be better in time for the Belgian championships, but I will definitely start.”

Mud in Hooglede-Gits puts Sven Nys in the hot seat

The course – at the venue used for the World championships in 2007 – has been subject to the same rain as the rest of Belgium in recent weeks, causing many to predict that Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) is to take back the title that he has won seven times before. Conditions are likely to mirror those in Baal, in Nys’ own race, where the Kannibaal put on a demonstration as to why he has been the dominant cyclocross rider for a generation.

One man that doesn’t expect Nys to have things all his own way on Sunday though, is three-time World champion Erwin Vervecken, who took the driekleur himself back in 1996, and took the third of his rainbow jerseys in the Hooglede-Gits mud.

“It will be a really tough Belgian championships,” Vervecken told Sporza, “even though it’s been below zero all week; but there is rain expected, which it will have its influence.

“I predict a tough one, a real mudfest.”

Nys is – and has been for many years – the master of the muddy course, which obviously makes the Kannibaal the hot favourite for an eighth title. Vervecken feels that Nys will have some competition on Sunday though, coming from his two main rivals of the past couple of seasons.

“You can compare Hooglede-Gits with Baal,” Vervecken confirmed. “The course only has a small difference in elevation; Baal is a good barometer of form.

“I put Niels Albert and Kevin Pauwels [Sunweb-Revor] at the same level [as Nys],” he explained. “Everybody expects Nys, of course, I think he rode his best ‘cross of the season in Baal; it was impressive. But I think that Pauwels and Albert will close the gap for Sunday.”

Vervecken may have been speaking without knowing about Albert’s illness but, assuming the reigning champion can be healthy again by the weekend, he is expected to put on a good defence.

“I make no distinction between the three,” said Vervecken. “Nys is always there at the Belgian championships, Pauwels has taken the step up to the top this season, and Albert is defending his title.”

Other names that might want to have their own say in Sunday’s race include two-time former champion Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea), who made the Baal podium after winning his biggest race in years at Essen, and his teammate Rob Peeters, who has been at the front of most races recently.

The Belgian driekleur is arguably the most hotly contested jersey in cyclocross – and that includes the World championships – because most of the top riders in the World are all racing against one another to win their country’s flag.

Should Nys take an eighth, Wellens a third, Albert a second, or Pauwels or Peeters a first, the Belgian title race will certainly be one of the fiercest of the season.

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