The start of the Belgian Classics 2013
While we’ve had a bunch of small stage races, all of which claim to start the season off in one way or another, we all know that the prizes that matter come this weekend. Sure, your weight in gazpacho might be great (Mountains classification prize for the Vuelta Ciclista Andalucia) but does it compare to an exclusive furry donkey that you can win at Kuurne Brussel Kuurne? I think not!
The two Openingsweekend races usually pan out like this - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is a race for the hitters who pick the right moment today, and then not again for the rest of the season. Think Juan Antonio Flecha in 2012. Or 2011. On in fact 2010, 2009 and 2007 Fives times on the podium with one win. It’s also one of the few classics Tom Boonen hasn’t won. It’s a good race for Bernhard Eisel - he’s sprinting well and is a good rouleur on his day, so if Sky let him, he could win this. Other than that, could it be the year Tom Boonen finally wins?
The other is a more straightforward affair - the past two seasons it has been won by sprinters on a good day who can get round without incident. It can be a surprise, and it can be somone you didn’t expect - Chris Sutton was one of those riders. Nick Nuyens has also won here, as has Tom Boonen. Bizarrely, never won by an Italian or Spaniard. Andre Greipel is the name that sticks out most on the start list.
The season’s Cyclocross in review, or “What’s Eating Albert Grape?”
He managed to rescue some pride by winning in the final BPost Bank Trofee race at Oostmalle, but the standout story for me has been Niels Albert’s form bonking harder that a dentist at the end of a club run. Sven Nys had given up on winning the Superprestige before he wrestled it back after some very poor performances by Niels Albert in the second half of the competition. Albert was also nowhere in the world cup. Winning a handful of races is good, but we’d expect more from a former World Champion than two 2nd places in the Superprestige and BPost bank Trofee.
If you could pin me down to one moment though, Zdenek Stybar winning the World Championships would be it. The race had so much drama, it’s crying out for a terrible simile. It genuinely hurts to not liken it to something daft. It’s definitely a shame that we won’t see those rainbow stripes week in week out next season, but all credit to the Czech for winning the race. We can only hope he puts in a similarly good performance in the first half of the season on the road - he arguably could’ve won Paris-Roubaix last year, were it not for a badly positioned spectator.
But that’s it until Cross Vegas. I enjoyed writing about it, and watching as much as I can. If you were counting, that was about 8500 words across 28 races. If there’s anything you think I could do better, feedback is always mostly welcome
Sven Nys, when conditions were similar to this year in 2012
The last top level race of the 2013/14 season, the last race of the BPost Bank Trofee. That’s it, all done until CrossVegas on 10th September. There’s the Cyclocross Masters on Wednesday, but with next weekend being the Openingsweekend of the road season and this being the last competition, it doesn’t really count.
Yup, the last race of the BPost Bank Trofee. Sven Nys leads the general classification comfortably by 4m05 over Niels Albert, and 8m33 over Tom Meeusen. Sven Nys would have to not even take part to lose that lead, and similarly Niels Albert would have to do the same to lose that 2nd place on the podium. Meeusen is in great form, but only has that podium position by 14s. Meeusen has never made the podium here
The course at Oostmalle runs round a little pond. Last year’s race was snowy, with the course divided up into sandy and muddy sections. The most similar race this year would be the Krawatencross at Lille a few weeks ago, so you’d have Nys nailed down as favourite.
Elite men go at 15h00 CET, with an official livestream promised here
Come back later for a review of the cyclocross season and a look ahead to the Openingsweekend.
Boels Classic, Heerlen
A standalone race, and the last of the year’s races in The Netherlands. Next weekend we have the last race of the BPost Bank Trofee and then the Cyclocross Masters at Waregem on the 26th, which is it until CrossVegas in September. Sosad!
Meeusen had a great race yesterday, so predictably doesn’t start. As a standalone race towards the end of the season, the field isn’t great (we’re missing Sven Nys, Tom Meeusen and Klaas Vantornout for starters) should make for more surprising racing. Lars Van der Haar would be favourite, with Niels Albert probably feeling too sorry for himself to do well.
The course has a few steep and long ups and downs, but a good chunk of the course is made up of two long straights, which if anything, makes you long for road racing again, where the stories are more than an hour long.
Ideal for Lars Van der Haar, but he won’t win. Mathieu Van der Poel.
Sven Nys in 2012
The second to last weekend of cyclocross this season, and we’re tying up one loose end, with the 8th and final round of the Superprestige, the Noordzeecross at Middelkerke, and then a standalone race, the Boels International Cyclocross at Heerlen.
Saturday’s race at Heerlen is obviously the more important of the two, with Niels Albert looking to salvage a disappointing season. He sits on 92 points, 4 clear of Sven Nys, so a podium finish will secure the title for him. He’s got more to play for than most of the other riders - Klaas Vantornout is down in 3rd with 72 points, and needs to hold off Philipp Walsleben on 70, and an in-form Tom Meeusen in 5th on 69 points. The number of points you get descends from 15 to 1 in one point intervals, so 1st gets 15, 2nd gets 14 etc.
But what about the course? Up and down with lots of climbs you can just about make up on the bike. Grassy and a bit sandy; not generally that muddy. If last weekend’s race is anything to go by, anyone running disc brakes will struggle - the sand wears out the pads of those like nobody’s business. Last year is was won by Klaas Vantornout, with Albert and Meeusen making up the podium. As it’s towards the end of the season, it tends to be a bit more open - Jonathan Page has finished on the podium 3 times here
So, in my opinion, it’s anybody’s race, but if I was Tom Meeusen, I’d have a good feeling about this one.
Tom Meeusen in Lille 2012/13 courtesy tmeeusen.be
Nearly done now! The ice and mud is starting to thaw, and will soon turn into cobbles as the road season begins with the openingsweekend in three weeks, and just two more cyclocross weekends after this. We’ve had our fair share of surprises in Lars Van der Haar taking the World Cup, Philipp Walsleben’s great form, Niels Albert’s (relatively) poor form and Zdenek Stybar nicking his 3rd World Championships, despite barely racing in the 2013/14 season.
This weekend we get two races: the BPost Bank Trofee and the Superprestige both have two rounds left to run, and take place on Saturday and Sunday respectively - the BPost Bank Trofee in Lille and the Superprestige in Hoogstraten.
Sven Nys currently has a good grip on the BPost Bank Trofee lead, but not so much that he could lose it - leading by nearly 3 minutes means he’s unlikely to win overall this weekend (you lose 5 minutes by not taking part in a race) but a good showing and he’ll just have to keep his head and not do anything silly in the last race of the season on the 23rd Feb in Oostmalle. The only likely action is to come in the race for 3rd. Thijs van Amerongen is currently 3rd, 49s ahead of Rob Peeters and 1m13 of Walsleben. Peeters had the best finish at the Worlds last weekend, in 7th: Walsleben finishing 11th; van Amerongen further back in 16th; based on that you’d think the Belgian had the best chance of finishing well.
The race happens on the banks of a lake/pond on the outskirts of Lille, so it’s pretty sandy. There’s also a nice hairpin right at the end of the start finish straight. It’s a reasonably fast course, but the amount of sand means if you don’t get in the right groove on a turn, you’ll be eating grit for the rest of the afternoon, although it’s also due to rain pretty heavily, which should firm the sand up a bit. I’ll plump for a Nys/Pauwels/Van der Haar podium.
The Elite Men’s race starts at 15h00CET on Sporza, check procyclinglive.com for links.
Sven Nys battling through the mud and snow in 2012/23, courtesy cyclocrosshoogstraten.be
If the rain will help the riders on Saturday, it’ll definitely mess them up on Sunday - the Aardbeiencross at Hoogstraten is usually your classic CX mudbath. WHile he’s had a poor tail end to the season not up to his usual standards, it’s going to be difficult for Niels Albert to lose his lead in the Superprestige. Sven Nys in 2nd gave up on the win two rounds ago: due to the way it’s scored, Albert needs to concede no more than 6 places this and next weekend in total. Not too hard and certainly not impossible - Albert finished 18 places behind him at the World Championships after another poor start and run of bad luck.
As it’s muddy, horrible and difficult, Sven Nys is your man. 7 times winner here, the only other winners in the last 9 years have been Niels Albert (2007/8 and 2009/10) and Tom Meeusen (2011/12). If he carries his great form from the World Championships, there isn’t anyone on the start list that’ll be able to get near him.
Rain again, with coverage on Vier.be; Elite Men go at 15h00 CET
Okay, whew. Hoogerheid. World Championships. Huge. Errbody doing dead fast laps
It’s the biggest single race, the biggest prize in the sport, and this year, arguably the most open it’s been for some time. Last year, as the final round of the world cup it was incredibly snowy, Czech Martin Bina won, with Lars Van der Haar in 2<nd< and the Swiss Simon Zahner 3rd - impressive as Van der Haar fought back after faceplanting onto the barriers on the first lap.
There have been races at the site since 1988 as the Gp Adrie Van der Poel, and the course is generally pretty tidy, without huge tranches of mud that might favour Sven Nys – the Kannibaal has only won 3 times here. Hoogerheide has hosted the World Championships before, in 2009 where Niels Albert took the win, Zdenek Stybar 2nd and Nys 3rd. However, the Under 23 race was won by World Cup 3rd place finisher Philipp Walsleben.
The course is usually fast (which is where the spills come in – plenty of tight turns after sharp dips downhill), although there has been a conscious effort to make it harder, spending less time on the concrete through the village than usual. There’s a series of steep dips at the start of the course, then a big bridge, and a few tasty turns in the woods that divide the first and second parts of the course, but it will generally be fast, suiting the likes of Van der Haar, Walsleben and Vantornhout more than other races.
With that in mind, who should we be looking for? Belgium has the biggest team with 7, and the biggest collection of stars. Team tactics play less of a part in cyclocross, and with Nys having a history of ignoring team orders anyway, there won’t be much advantage there. USA, Czech and Netherlands all have 6. It’s one of those quirks of the allocation process that France, though more successful at top level than the USA, has one fewer place.
Albert won the last World Championships here, in a frantic last lap. Similarly, Bina won with an attack in the 5th of 9 laps at the World Cup last year, giving him plenty of time to celebrate. A well timed attack and a held nerve on all those downhills and sweeping bends is what will win this. Niels Albert has had a poor season but could win again,putting it down to poor luck. And while I’ve largely written him off, Niels Albert himself put Sven Nys down as favourite. Prediction: 1. Nys, 2. Van der Haar, 3. Albert.
Last Year’s World Cup race in full:'
So, it’s getting to that part of the season then. The road season is stuttering to life outside of Europe, but we still have a few more weeks of cold and mud to look forward to. This weekend, the World Cup is wrapping up if it wasn’t already: Lars Van der Haar needs to finish 24th or higher to guarantee he wins the overall competition outright.
However, after that, things get a little more tricky: Philipp Walsleben, who was 2nd for most of the competition, is now 9 points behind Niels Albert in 3rd. So, Walsleben needs to finish above Albert, either by winning, two places ahead within the top 6, or 9 places ahead outside the top 6. Finishing within the top 20 however, would still give the German an historic place on the podium - the first time a German has done so, and the first time since 1996/7 that there has only been one Belgian on the World Cup podium.
For a race with a moderate bit of drama built in, Nommay sure fits the bill! The course can be a little muddy, can be quite fast with few obstacles, but looks to be pretty heavy on the legs, with a lot of ups and downs, perhaps longer than your usual cross course. You can expect a attacks on a huge set of steps, right after the first corner after the start-finish straight. There’s a nice feature of the official website where you can see pictures of past races at different parts of the course.
Who’s going to win then? Not technical enough for Nys to do well (although he has won his last 3 races), Van der Haar and Walsleben did well on this sort of course earlier in the season, but I can see Albert winning. He’s been a figure in the final in a lot of the more recent races, winning the last World Cup race in Rome. And dare I say it, I can see him winning the World Champs at Hoogerheide next weekend.
Coverage is online via the official UCI youtube channel here from 13h20 CET on Sunday.
Sven Nys rolls over the line for 3rd at Leuven in 2012. Image from Soudal Classics
This weekend, as the cyclocross season, it’s the first chance we get to see the riders in their new national champion jerseys. Well, except the Belgian jersey - for two races, Sven Nys holds the Belgian jersey and the 2013 World Champion’s jersey. Elsewhere, there were wins for Lars Van der Haar (NED), Philipp Walsleben (DEU) Ian Field (GBR) Jonathan Page (USA) and Martin Bina (CZE).
This weekend’s race is part of the Soudal Classics and takes place near the military barracks in town of Leuven, the home town of 10 time Belgian and 3 time world champion, Roland Liboton. It’s usually a heavy course, with a few ramps riders will need to get off for. The weather will be mild with a little cloud, but nothing harsh. It’s only been run twice so far, with Sven Nys winning the first in 2011 and Niels Albert winning in 2012.
There’s also no overarching classification in the Soudal Classics, so there’s plenty to play for - we’re going to be looking more than anything at who’s feeling good ahead of the final world cup race next week, and then the World Championships in Hoogerheide the weekend after.
Not got a clue really with this one. It’s reasonably hard, so I’d expect to see Sven Nys, Niels Albert and Kevin Pauwels make up the podium. The Elite Women’s race takes place at 13h45 CET with the Elite Men at 15h00 CET. There will be live coverage on Vier.be.
So, this is the course for the 2014 - flatter than 2013 and 2012, but the first thing that jumps out at you being the finish. For the first time in years, the race won’t be finishing in Madrid. Instead, there is a 10km time trial between Santiago de Compostela. Odd, because a big criterium like the usual Madrid finish is a great opportunity to show the city off as well as tie it to the excitement of a guaranteed race finish. A 10km long TT won’t be enough to make huge difference between most of the big finishers. However, with the big sprinters usually ducking out by the 3rd week, it might be a little more interesting.
The other thing is that there are a significantly greater number of flat and punchy stages - ten in total, compared to 6 in 2012. You might argue it is more balanced (certainly than 2012 when the last week was almost a GC dead rubber, with 5 flat stages) but there is still likely to be a mass exodus of riders going to the World Championships which is also in Spain (and expected to be very mountainous).
So, a more balanced 3 weeks with more of the mountain days coming towards the end (and no Pyrenees!). More time trial stages is another feature, but not as many overall kilometres against the clock. Less brutal, with more potential for surprises.
Marco Fontana finishing 3rd in the 2013 edition courtesy www.ciclocrossroma.it
Two rounds left of the Cyclocross World Cup and after his win at Zolder, Lars Van der Haar is so much in the driving seat he may as well be in a car for the last 2 rounds. He leads 2nd place Philipp Walsleben by 33 points, meaning the German would have to win both rounds, with Van der Haar finishing no better than 3rd in Rome and 4th in Nommay (or vice versa). But, to keep the locals happy, Italian Enrico Franzoi is the 10th of 12 others we could possibly win if everyone above them were to fail to finish both rounds.
If Van der Haar does win (and looking at this course, it’s a strong possibility given his performance at a similar course in Tabor), Albert, Pauwels, Vantornout and Walsleben will all be mathematically capable of winning, but Van der Haar will only need to finish 17th to secure the title at Nommay, even if Walsleben were to win there. And given his results in the competition are 1st, 1st, 1st, 5th and 10th, that’s unlikely.
So, last year’s race was a grassy criterium, with mountain biker Marco Fontana giving the Italians something to cheer with his 3rd place finish (he also went on to finish 3rd in the cross country mountain bike race at the London Olympics). He’s back this year, and hoping for another good result. There’s rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday, which may affect the course.
Interesting fact - the venue, the Ippodromo Capannelle is home to Rome’s premier cricket club. As such, it’s so flat as to not be tough enough for Nys or Albert to do well. There’s a very good chance that this could be the 2nd time this season there are no Belgians on the podium. I’m going for Van der Haar - Bina - Walsleben.
Romano Scotti was a local cyclist, champion of the Lazio region, then a technical director with the Faema/Preneste di Luigi Necci team, before becoming technical director for italian cyclocross. If anyone does have any more information, it would be appreciated.