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Sven Nys on his way to winning the 2012 Belgian cyclo-cross nationals
With this weekend's round in Liévin, France, the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup heads into the final stretch of the competition. For all categories, the event in the north of France features as penultimate round. After the national championships from last weekend, it'll be the first occasion to see all the fresh national champions in their new kits, and some are coming from as far away as Japan.
For the elite men, it will be round seven of the World Cup, and two men are tight with each other at the top of the overall rankings: leader Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), who is trailing by only 10 points. The latter demolished the opposition at the muddy Belgian national championships in Hooglede last week while Pauwels finished in a mediocre 10th place due to a sore back.
With his eighth national champion's jersey fresh on his shoulders, Nys has banked a plenty of confidence going into these final races. Pauwels told Cyclingnews after the race in Hooglede that he didn't mind the off day and expected to bounce back in no time. The coy 27-year-old Pauwels lived up to his promise one day later at the domestic 'cross in Otegem, which he won.
The duo will surely be at it again in Liévin and may play to the advantage of men like world champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus). The two are mainly concentrating on grabbing the rainbow jersey at the world championships in Koksijde in two weeks. Both consider this World Cup race as part of the build-up rather than an end goal.
Apart from the above big four, much will be expected from the French riders at their World Cup round on home soil. At the French national championships, it was surprisingly Aurélien Duval (CC Charlott) who won the race ahead of Steve Chainel (FDJ-Big Mat) and defending champion Francis Mourey (FDJ-Big Mat). Chainel clicked out of his pedal in the final sprint and together with teammate Mourey they'll surely hope to do better than Duval in Liévin.
For the next tier of Belgians like Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea), Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus) and Sven Vanthourenhout (Landbouwkrediet), the race in Liévin features as final test to claim their selection for the world championships race in Koksijde.
Liévin, an industrial French town near Lens, will also be the setting of the first post-Nationals race for British champion Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) and US champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus). Repeating his first World Cup round top-10 result from Plzen will be the main challenge for Powers. He will be surrounded by the others who joined him in the breakaway last weekend in Madison including Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt), Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), Timothy Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com).
In the women's category, the battle for the overall win in the World Cup seems over since second placed Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash) called off her participation for the race in Liévin due to an upper respiratory tract infection. Last year's World Cup winner Van Paassen has been dealing with health issues for about a month now. She aims to be back for the final round on home soil in Hoogerheide.
World champion Marianne Vos (Stichting Rabo Women's Cycling Team) trails current leader Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) by 56 points and with only 60 points available for a win, Van den Brand only needs to control the damages in Liévin.
It will be more interesting to watch the battle for the day's win rather than the overall World Cup win in among the women. For the first time this season, all previous winners of a World Cup round will be present at the same race. A battle between US champion Katherine Compton (Rabobank - Giant Off-Road Team) and Vos is expected, but also Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) and Van den Brand should be able to provide a challenge. Lucie Chainel-Lefevre is the freshly crowned French champion and a new signing of BH SR Suntour Peisey Vallandry MTB Team.
On a good day, Chainel should be able to mix in with the above mentioned riders. Also present in Liévin are three strong British riders led by national champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Racing). Compton crushed her rivals at the nationals in Madison, where she finished well ahead of the rider she is coaching, Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who joins Compton in Liévin. Amy Dombroski (Crankbrothers-The Race Club) and Christine Vardaros (Baboco Cycling Club) will also be there for the Americans.
In the under 23 men's category, Lars van der Haar (Rabobank - Giant Off-Road Team) leads the World Cup rankings comfortably. Second placed Gert-Jan Bosman will not be present in Liévin. Mike Teunissen and Wietse Bosmans should provide some opposition against Van der Haar on Sunday. US champion Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) is aiming to again mix it up with the best.
Van der Haar gave an indication of his talent during the national championships in Huijbergen. Van der Haar's lap times were faster than those from Lars Boom (Rabobank) in the elite men's category. After grabbing his sixth title, Boom has ended his cyclo-cross campaign for the season and is fully focused on his road season.
Mathieu van der Poel is expected to continue his dominance of the junior men's category. The son of famous Adrie won both previous World Cup rounds. Daan Soete (Belgium) and especially local rider Quentin Jauregui (France) are outsiders in Liévin.