Cyclocross Worlds Preview: Belgium vs Belgium vs Štybar in Belgium
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Friday, January 27, 2012

Cyclocross Worlds Preview: Belgium vs Belgium vs Štybar in Belgium

by Ben Atkins at 2:29 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Cyclocross, World Championships
 
Marianne Vos outstanding favourite for record fifth women’s title; dossard number 13 for Sven Nys

zdenek stybarJust as it was on the previous two year’s, this weekend’s Elite Men’s cyclocross World championships should see a battle between Belgium and Czech defending champion Zdeněk Štybar. Within that though – to the Czech rider’s advantage – will be the expected civil war between the Belgians, which could see all seven riders from the host nation riding against one another.

The last time the World championships were held on the dunes of Koksijde, back in 1994, the race was taken by Belgian Paul Herijgers, who is now cyclocross coordinator for the Belgian Cycling Federation, as well as working for TV station Sporza as a commentator. The omens may be there, but Štybar has won on this venue – if not this actual course – before, and has come into his best form of the season in recent weeks.

“I feel ready for the race,” the defending champion told a press conference on the even of the race. “I’ve been training as I should have and I’ve had an excellent approach to the race until now.”

World Cup winner Kevin Pauwels is currently the number one rider in the World, after a consistently strong season so far. The 27-year-old is more of a fan of the faster courses – which the sand of Koksijde is most certainly not – but he finished second in November’s Duinencross on the same course as this weekend’s race, and was clearly the best rider at Hoogerheide last week.

2009 World champion Niels Albert has won on the Koksijde sand, taking the World Cup race in 2010, although he missed the latest edition through injury. His form has been mixed in recent weeks, and he looked strong – although not as strong as Pauwels – in Hoogerheide, the venue where he took his 2009 World title.

Arguably, the big Belgian favourite – the poison chalice that he carries every year – is Sven Nys though. The Belgian champion has been vying with Pauwels for the World number one spot all season, and is a five-time winner at Koksijde; including the latest edition on this longer, World championship course.

The start numbers were allocated by the International Cycling Union (UCI) this morning; Štybar starts as number one, as the defending champion, while Nys has been given a rather less lucky number. If he is superstitious though, Nys isn’t saying.

“Number 13 Sunday,” was the Kannibaal’s typically brief comment on Twitter. “I am ready for it.”

Can anybody beat Marianne Vos?

marianne vosReigning champion Marianne Vos appears almost certain to add an incredible fifth title in the Elite Women’s race. The 24-year-old Dutchwoman is already a joint record holder – alongside German Hanka Kupfernagel – with four titles, and is the only woman to have taken three in a row; another victory would be an outright record.

Vos has ridden sixteen races this season, and won an incredible fifteen of them. Ironically, the one race that she didn’t win was the Koksijde Duinencross round of the World Cup – her first race back in November – where she was beaten into second by compatriot Daphny van den Brand. This was Vos’ first race since the road World championships more than two months before though, and she was short of race fitness.

Since then Vos has been emphatically unbeatable, finishing a long way clear of the rest of the field on each occasion; even complaining of being a little bored as it all became too easy.

The rest will doubtless up their game for the Worlds, but whether they can lift it enough to rival Vos is doubtful; the only real hope for the others lies in misfortune for the defending champion.

If anybody can challenge Vos it will likely be World Cup winner van den Brand, or eight-time US champion Katie Compton. Van den Brand will call a close to her long and distinguished career at the end of this season, and would dearly like to close out with a second rainbow jersey; Compton, similarly, would dearly like to take her first, and improve on her bronze and two silvers from previous years.

As usual the Dutch team looks the strongest, with Sanne van Paassen returning after a long lay-off, and Sophie de Boer thankfully not having broken her wrist in the massive crash at the beginning of last week’s Hoogerheide World Cup.

Elsewhere, the challenge is likely to come from Frenchwoman Lucie Chainel-Lefevere – the wife of FDJ-BigMat’s Steve Chainel – who has taken several major podiums this season, as well as the French championship; former French champion Caroline Mani also escaped any broken bones in the Hoogerheide crash, but will ride with badly grazed knees. Seven-time British champion Helen Wyman thankfully seems to have put the chest problems that bugged much of her season behind her, and should be strong on a course that suits her. Wyman hopes to become the first British medallist since Louise Robinson in 2000, although the British team is weakened by the withdrawal of Gabby Day, who is still suffering from the same chest infection.

The home nation’s hopes will be carried by national champion Sanne Cant, who has identified the Kokijde course as one of her favourites.

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