At this year's cyclo-cross world championships, contested in January at Koksijde, Belgium, the home Belgian team utterly dominated the race in the elite men's category by placing all seven team members in a sweep of the top seven places. Czech rider Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus) was the first non-Belgian in the results, finishing eighth, more than two minutes behind his trade teammate Niels Albert.
On Saturday afternoon the cyclo-cross peloton once again landed in the dunes of Koksijde for the third round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. And while Belgian riders yet again made their presence felt by placing six riders in the top seven, French rider Francis Mourey (FDJ-Big Mat) countered the home country's show of force by finishing on the podium in third place, 19 seconds behind winner Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-KDL) and just five seconds in arrears of runner-up Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus), the reigning world champion crowned on the sand dunes of Koksijde in January.
So far this season there have been only three races in which all the world's best riders were present and those were the World Cup rounds. In the two previous World Cup rounds Mourey finished fourteenth and eighth place but in Koksijde he claimed a surprising third place result.
"It wasn't a surprise to me," Mourey said, when asked by the gathered media at the post-race press conference in the military base next to the sand course in Koksijde. "The Belgians aren't unbeatable. I'm on good form and I've been working hard for two and a half months. The muddy course suits me and I felt really good today. When I accelerated only Albert and Nys managed to come back on me.
"During the last lap I lacked the technical skills to fight for the win, especially on the long flat sand sections where they switch on their motors," continued Mourey. "I tried to follow Nys when he passed me but that wasn't possible. In the past, when the finish was still on the street instead of the runway there used to be much more sand, though, so I'm not complaining.
"It's just a very specific course, like Igorre and Asper-Gavere are very specific, too. In Roubaix [the next World Cup round] the course suits me more and I expect to battle for the podium once again, despite the two steep drops there. There's no sand so that's good."
Mourey, a 31 year-old from Chazot near the Swiss border, doesn't often compete against the Belgians as he prefers to ride a different schedule primarily consisting of races on the French national calendar. Not taking into account his competitions in the World Cup or on Belgian soil, Mourey has won each of the six races he's contested.
December is a month stacked with races for 'cross riders but Mourey explained things were different for him. "I'm not racing in Belgium between Christmas and New Year," Mourey said, referring to poor start money being offered. Another factor keeping Mourey away from 'cross racing in December will be a training camp with his road team, FDJ-Big Mat, halfway through the month.
Mourey also wasn't present at as many races as previous years in November. "Compared to last year I trained less and raced less in November."
With most of the Belgian riders starting a training camp this week there's a good chance Mourey might be fresher than his Belgian rivals in Roubaix, France, next week for the fourth round of the World Cup. On home soil he might be able to add a second World Cup win to his palmares, with his first coming six years ago in Treviso, Italy.